Near Birnin Kebbi April 1840 The man in the center of the hollow square was five and a half feet tall, although his stocky build and graying hair gave the impression of someone much larger. On his cheeks and lips were the tribal scars of a Fulani, on his back the tattered remnant of what had once been a military uniform, beneath it the brand of a runaway slave. He’d been a soldier once, and more than once. He was still a Fulani, and would always be. A slave… no, never again that. His name was Paulo Abacar. He’d had another one once, given him by his parents, and sometimes he thought he could remember what it was. But they’d died when he was very young, and the name he’d got from his master would do. His eyes surveyed the Sokoto river valley, taking in the eleven thousand men who stood in his path -- the army of the Sultan of Sokoto. Around him, arrayed in two squares, were the men who had followed him to this war. They numbered barely half as many. “Don’t worry too much,” he told the lieutenant who stood at his side. “They’re brave men, warriors. But they aren’t soldiers.” The lieutenant had heard such things from him before. “We’ll find out soon enough.” He nodded, fingered the portrait of Dessalines in his locket, and thought of other wars. It had taken him some time to find the first one. When he’d run away for the third time -- the time he’d made it stick -- he’d sailed on an British merchantman. He was eighteen then. He’d been twenty-three when the ship landed at Lisbon, the week after the Portuguese uprising began. Portugal had needed soldiers, and they took him. He’d spent the next six years fighting up and down Portugal and Spain. He met the Spaniards who fought the guerrilla, and learned their language and their tactics. Later, when Britain had supplied officers for the Portuguese army, he’d learned the same things from them. And at the end of it all, he’d gone home. He’d been a sergeant at the end of the war, with a Portuguese warrant, and they’d let him keep it in Brazil -- even made him a lieutenant in the creole militia. Those were the years of hiding -- hiding his faith, concealing the fact that he’d once been a slave. The years of going to church openly and praying to Allah in secret. The years in which he’d learned to read, and studied history and politics. Then had come the year of his second war. It was the Malê who’d started this one -- the Muslim slaves. He was a Malê himself, he supposed, although most of those who had that name were Yoruba. But slaves didn’t often bring creole officers into their confidence -- even officers who’d once been slaves themselves -- and he hadn’t learned of their plans for revolt until very late. The Malê rebellion was cursed as all slave revolts were -- cursed by bonds of loyalty, by slaves who warned their masters to escape the conflagration. It was pure chance that one of the whisperings made its way to Paulo, and from there to the other creole and mulatto soldiers. The company had argued about it through the night, and come to blows half a dozen times, but when the revolt spilled into the streets the next morning, most of them had joined it. That had been the day of victory -- the day they’d stood off a cavalry charge, the day they’d seized the barracks and palace, and with them the city. But after that had come the days of defeat. The government had brought a draft of troops in from the countryside before the Malê could rally it, and although they’d fought street by street, they’d been pushed out of the town. That was when Paulo had taken command, leading them to the mountains, fighting the guerrilla as the Spaniards had taught him. Those were the hard years, the years of privation and attrition, but other slaves heard of them, and some came to join them. Enough did so, eventually, that the government had made them an offer: come down from the mountains, and there would be ships to take them to Africa. Paulo’s officers had been sure it was a trap, like the French had set for Toussaint. He’d agreed, and sent the governor’s envoy back with an answer: the Malê would come down if they could keep their weapons, and if fifty officers went with them as hostages. He hadn’t expected that the governor would accept. A thunder came from the hills behind him, and his train of thought was broken. A moment later, case-shot from the Malê six-pounders hit the Sultan’s ranks. They were almost in range of the three-pounders inside the squares now, and the crews were making ready to fire. What had he been thinking of? Oh, yes, the return to Ouidah. The Male hadn’t been the first to do so. There were many in Ouidah who wore European clothes, ate feijoada and celebrated Carnaval -- one of them, de Souza, had even become viceroy to Dahomey’s king. Paulo didn’t want to be one of them. They were Christian, for one thing, but that was a minor objection compared to the fact that they were slave-traders. Where was the spirit of Toussaint and Dessalines in them? Where were the Rights of Man and Citizen? Those had been the years of service in King Ghezo’s army, the years of planning, the years when Paulo’s desire to return home had become something more. Why should the Malê join the slavers, or stand helpless before them? Why, instead, should they not build their own nation, one that slavers would not dare assail? And so they’d pooled their pay, mortgaged their labor, scraped enough to buy powder and a few battered cannon. It had been arduous labor to get them here -- up roads that were little more than tracks even in the dry season, past the Yoruba cities that had closed their gates despite Paulo’s assurance that he meant them no harm -- but cannons, muskets and Malê had come at last to this place. To Sokoto. To the Fulani caliphate, united a generation ago by a great scholar but already growing decadent and corrupt under his grandson. To a land of poets and warriors, one that would combine the service of God with the Rights of Man, one that no slaver would dare assail -- if the Malê could rule it. They would have to conquer it first, but Paulo knew how. The British had taught the Portuguese the ways of modern war, and the Portuguese had taught the Brazilians -- and all three had taught him. The Sokoto horsemen, the ones who'd come through the case-shot, were very close now -- almost in musket range. Some of them were firing, and although the range was long, Paulo's soldiers were starting to fall. "Allah and the Malê!" he shouted. "Danton, Toussaint and Dessalines!" At "Danton," the first rank of men in front of the squares, and as many of those on the sides who had a field of fire, went to their knees. At "Toussaint," the second rank aimed over their heads. And at "Dessalines," the second rank fired. Men and horses went down in front of the square, and the field was full of smoke and cries of pain. Those behind found their advance blocked by their fallen comrades as the first rank stood to fire its volley in turn. That was the terror of the hollow square: it made its own rampart of dead and dying men. But still the cavalry came on, hoping to break through the squares by sheer weight of numbers before the second rank could reload. Their charge had been blunted by the six-pounders and the musket volleys, and their formation was scattered, but there were still many of them, and they came at the corners with lances leveled. The Malê, bayonets fixed, waited. The lines met. In two places, holes were torn in the Malê ranks. Paulo rushed men from the rear of his square to close the gap, hoping that the officers in the other square were doing the same. If the Sokoto horsemen could hold their breach, if he thinned the rear ranks too much, if the enemy was still numerous enough to ride around and attack in force where the square had been weakened... But they weren't. The square held, and another volley shattered the charge. The cavalry milled for a long moment and sheered off to regroup. Twice more they charged, and twice more the square held. The Malê had the field. Paulo looked back toward the hills where the six-pounders stood and the camp where the women and children waited. Today they would bury the fallen as God intended. Tomorrow they would march. In three days they would be at Sokoto's gates, and in six they would be its masters. And on the seventh day... Let the slavers know fear.