Three years previously Sharpe has been on a scouting party with Major Brand whose heroics found him promoted to Colonel. Now Sharpe is reunited with Brand,leader of a commando force,to go behind enemy lines and destroy a French gunpowder store. Also along are Major-General Ross,Wellington's head of intelligence,the disfigured explosives expert Major Pyecroft and Pyecroft's gypsy lover Zara,whom he rescued when a band of masked men killed her family. In fact Brand is leading them into a trap to capture Ross as he is a French spy and traitor,responsible for the deaths of Zara's family. Sharpe and Ross have their suspicions,which are confirmed after Brand's sergeant Pope tries to kill Zara.The fort is taken and Brand court-martialled and killed in a fight with Sharpe. The store is destroyed,thanks to Pyecroft. Back at camp a pretentious war reporter Shillington tries,unsuccessfully, to impress Jane with his poetry,though his sketches inadvertently help Sharpe to trap Brand.