Tewfik mousetrapped the 5th Descott and wiped out the other battalion with them; and she helped him nurse the wounded Staenbridge back to health in winter-quarters outside Sandoral. She'd been pregnant, and Gerrin—whose wife back home in Descott was still childless, despite twice-yearly duty-inspired visits—had freed her and adopted the child. Both children, now.
"Did you kill him with your sword?" the awestruck child went on with bloodthirsty enthusiasm, after touching the hook with one finger. They were nearly to the town plaza. "The one who cut off your hand."
"Possibly," Bartin said severely.
Actually, it had been a pom-pom shell, one of the last the enemy fired in the battle outside Sandoral. That had been right after he led the counterattack out of the command bunker, past the burning Colonist armored cars. Probably the enemy gun-crew had been slaughtered as they tried to get back to the pontoon bridge across the Drangosh.
Who can tell? he thought. There had been so many bodies that day; dead ragheads, all sizes and shapes, all dead; dead Civil Government soldiers too, piled in the trenches. Bartin Foley had been on a stretcher travelling back to the aid station in town.
"Right, we'll—" he began to the NCO beside him.
Crack. The bullet went overhead, far too close. Crack. Crack. Crack. More shots from the building to his left—the heretic Brigaderos church, it must be fanatics, holdouts.
Someone was screaming; a lot of people were, as the crowd scattered back into the arcades. The child whimpered and grabbed at him. Foley kicked his left leg over the saddle and vaulted to the ground.
"Take cover!" he shouted. "Return fire! Lieutenant Torridez, around and take them from the rear."
Armory rifles crackled, their sounds crisper than the Brigaderos' muskets. Foley dashed to the arcade opposite, his dog following in well-trained obedience; the officer shoved the girl into the arms of a matron with a lace mantilla who was standing quietly behind a pillar—unlike most of the civilians, who were running and shrieking and exposing themselves to the ricochets that whined off the cobblestones and the stucco of the buildings around the square. Without pausing he ran around the other side of the pillar and back into the square, pulling free the cut-down shotgun he wore in a holster over his right shoulder.
"Stay!" he ordered the animal. Then: "Follow me, dog-brothers!" A fat lead slug from an enemy musket plucked at the sleeve of his jacket as he ran, opening it as neatly as a tailor's scissors, and then he was in the shadow of the church portico.
A dozen troopers and an NCO were close behind him; the rest of the detachment were circling 'round behind the building, or returning fire on the roof and upper story from behind watering-troughs, treetrunks, overturned carts or their own crouching dogs. Bullets spanged and sparked off the stone overhead, and sulfur-smelling gunsmoke drifted down the street past the trampled flowers and discarded hats that the crowds had been waving a moment before.
Idiots, he thought. Sniping from a bell-tower; downward shots were difficult at best, and stood no chance of hitting another man behind your target.
"One, two, three! " he said.
Two of the troopers blasted the lock; metal whined across the colored tile of the portico, and someone shouted with pain. Foley ignored him, ignored everything but the tight focus that pulled everything into crystalline clarity in a tunnel ahead of him. They smashed through the tall olivewood doors of the barbarian church. He'd closed his eyes for just a second, and the gloom inside didn't blind him. A long room with wooden benches and a central aisle, leading up to an altar with the blue-and-white globe that the heretics substituted for the rayed Star of the true faith. Reliquaries along the walls under small high windows,