After hearing Liam’s report, Washington took him to see General Forbes, who had finally arrived at Ligonier – having to make the journey by litter, too ill to sit a horse or ride in a wagon. They entered the General’s tent, to find him in bed, dictating notes to his secretary about troop dispositions for defense and construction. “Ah, Colonel Washington, I presume this young man is the famous Mr. Mallory. Come, sit down. Please pardon my appearance, Mr. Mallory, dying of the bloody flux, you see; damned nuisance to say the least. So, tell me, Mr. Mallory, how are things in Fort Duquesne?”
General Forbes put the fort on full alert after hearing Liam’s assessment of the conditions at Duquesne, and the probable attack from the ever audacious Ligerny – an attack shadowed by Mulhern, Liam and Wahta. Colonel Washington ordered Sergeant Mulhern to step up the patrols. Mulhern was pleased to have Liam and Wahta as companions. They sent the rest of their patrol back to warn the fort, while they followed and planned a small ambush for the inevitable retreating French force. Soon, they heard the booming of two French cannon, and headed over to see about eliminating that threat.
The advancing twelve hundred French were met with a withering musket volley, followed by an artillery barrage of grape and canister shot. The French were overcome and demoralized in the face of the blistering attack and dozens of attackers fell. Liam took aim, and let an arrow fly, hitting the artilleryman in the hand as he was about to light the fuse. Mulhern and Wahta raised their muskets, and with Liam advanced on the six French soldiers manning the cannon. None of them were armed other than with ramrods, and six pairs of arms were soon raised in surrender.
Encouraged by the results of the French attack, Forbes decided it was time for an all-out assault on Duquesne. Despite the misery of his illness, Forbes insisted on being in command, and accompanied his twenty-five hundred men – though he sent Washington to the front of the march, to take charge of the actual fighting. They were still a few miles away when night came, so they made camp, sent out a patrol, and set a line of double sentries around the perimeter.
At the fort, Ligerny – under orders to avoid surrender – supervised the setting of demolition charges, and the preparations for his garrison to leave in the middle of the night. They would head for Fort Le Boeuf, fifty miles north on the Lake Erie shore. If he could not defend the position, then he would at least deny the British not only the use of the fort, but also the use of his store of cannon and ammunition. Jimmy Two Birds also made his plans for evacuation; soon, his wagonload of goods and his whores were headed to Trent’s old place, though he remained behind to say farewell to Ligerny and to prepare for the British.
Liam, Wahta, Daniel, Markus, and Sergeant Mulhern, having led the patrol in a wide circuit around Fort Duquesne, were camped by the Allegheny River ford, which the army would use in the morning. The explosion shook the ground where they lay sleeping. At once, the night sky was aflame with fire, and the smoke rose so thick that it concealed the stars.
The patrol members were startled awake. Liam and Mulhern stood together, as more explosions ripped through the now blazing fort. “Aye now,” exclaimed Sergeant Mulhern, “sure that’ll make taking the fort a mite easier, but what a bloody waste of ammunition.”
Liam nodded and pointed. “There go the last of the French troops, most likely the demolition team, and there – on horseback – that must be the commander. Not much chance we’ll catch them now.”
General Forbes, unable to sleep, was drinking a concoction of ground hartshorn mixed in beer, a mixture his surgeon suggested. While unsure how much good the drink was doing him, it was certainly better than being bled, or purged. He had the mug to his lips when the first explosion surprised him, the mug falling from his grasp and spilling on his blanket. “God’s bollocks, the French bastard blew the fort,” he said to the doctor, “go find Colonel Washington. I need to know the extent of the damage, and the whereabouts of the French.”
Washington and a platoon of infantry crossed the Allegheny, and met up with Liam’s patrol. He saw Liam conferring with Wahta and Markus, who then ran in the direction taken by the French away from the fort. “Well, Colonel, that surely was a rude way to wake up. Two Birds told me this might happen, but I thought the French would at least put up a fight.”
“From what I can see,” replied Washington, “most of the fort itself is burning, though there are some buildings outside the walls that are still standing. I hope your friend Two Birds made it out of there.”
“Climb on down from your horse, Colonel, sir,” said Sergeant Mulhern, “I have the boys making coffee, and it will be a while before Wahta and Markus return with news of the French.”
Liam held the halter while the Colonel clambered out of the saddle. “I wouldn’t be worrying too much about old Two Birds. I’m guessing the rascal will be there to greet us in the morning, probably draped in a Union Jack.”
This elicited a chuckle from Washington. “I look forward to making his acquaintance.”
Wahta returned two hours later, bearing the bloody body of Markus in his arms. He laid him gently down, and said only, “Huritt.” Daniel and Liam looked at the scalped and mutilated form of their friend. Tears streamed down Daniel’s face, but Liam stood like a stone, his face a mask of hatred.
“What happened?” growled Liam.
Wahta met Liam’s eyes. “We split up when we reached the trees. I went ahead, to see if I could find the beginning of the French soldiers. Markus stayed behind, to see if others were lagging. I was on my way back when I heard him scream. Huritt had followed us, and taken Markus by surprise. When I saw Huritt, he was scalping Markus. He saw me, but disappeared into the shadows, waving the scalp in triumph before I could take a shot at him. I am sorry, brother.”
Washington came over, knelt, and covered the body with a blanket. He looked at Wahta, and asked, “What about the French?”
“They are too far away for pursuit. They are moving quickly toward Fort Machault.”
General Forbes arrived at the ruins of the fort in the morning, the dysentery having kept him up most of the night. “Gentlemen, we will need to rebuild this fort. It is the key to controlling the Ohio, but it is too late in the season for the entire army to stay here. Therefore, I will return to Ligonier with most of the troops. Those who stay will start building Fort Pitt. Colonel Washington, I must ask you to make all possible speed, and take the news of our victory to Philadelphia. Please take what men you need. Now, if you will excuse me, gentlemen, I feel my strength ebbing, and desire to sleep.”
Washington looked at Liam and Daniel, and said, “I would have you, along with Sergeant Mulhern and Wahta, accompany me back East.” Liam made to protest – his desire was to follow Huritt – but Washington forestalled his response with a hand on Liam’s shoulder, “I know how badly you want to catch up with that Shawnee, but I need your skills with me. The war is not over yet; there are still battles to be fought.”
Liam grasped Washington’s hand, and with one last look at his friend’s body, replied, “I will go with you.”