Bernard Cornwell – 1812 10 Sharpe’s Enemy

Bernard Cornwell – 1812 10 Sharpe’s Enemy

Bernard Cornwell – 1812 10 Sharpe’s Enemy

For my daughter, with love

`… this system is yet in its infancy… much has been accomplished in a short time and there is every reason to believe that the accuracy of the Rocket may be actually brought upon a par with that of other artillery ammunition for all the important purposes of field service.’

Colonel Sir William Congreve. 1814.


On December 8th, 1812, the English soldiers first came to Adrados.

The village had escaped the war. It lay in that part of Spain east of the northern Portuguese border and, though it was close to the frontier, few soldiers had passed through its single street.

The French had come once, three years before, but they had been running from the English Lord Wellington and running so fast that they scarcely had time to stop and loot.

Then in May of 1812 the Spanish soldiers had come, the Garrison of Adrados, but the villagers had not minded. There were only fifty soldiers, with four cannon, and once the guns had been placed in the old Castle and Watchtower outside the village the soldiers seemed to think their war was done. They drank in the village inn, flirted with the women at the stream where the flat stones made laundry easy, and two village girls married gunners in the summer. By some confusion in the Spanish Army the ‘garrison’ had been sent a powder convoy intended for Ciudad Rodrigo and the soldiers boasted that they had more powder, and fewer guns, than any other Artillery troop in Europe. They made crude fireworks for the weddings and the villagers admired the explosions that flashed and echoed in.their remote valley. In the autumn some of the Spanish soldiers deserted, bored with guarding the valley where no soldiers came, eager to go back to their own villages and their own women.

Then the English soldiers came. And on that day of all days!

Adrados was not a place of great importance. It grew, the priest said, sheep and thorns, and the priest told the villagers that made the village a holy place because Christ’s life began with the shepherds’ visit and ended with a crown of thorns. Yet the villagers did not need the priest to tell them that Adrados was sacred because only one thing brought visitors to Adrados, and that was on the Feast on December 8th.

Years before, no one knew how many, not even the priest, but in those far-off days when the Christians fought the Muslims in Spain, the Holy Mother had come to Adrados. Everyone knew the story. Christian Knights were falling back through the valley, hard pressed, and their leader had stopped to pray beside a granite boulder that was poised on the edge of the pass which fell off to the west, towards Portugal, and then it had happened. She had appeared! She stood on the granite boulder, Her face pale as ice, Her eyes like mountain pools, and She told the Knight that the pursuing Muslims would soon stop to pray themselves, to face east towards their heathen home, and that if he turned his tired troop about, if they drew their battered swords, then they would bring glory to the cross.

Two thousand Muslim heads dropped that day. More! No one knew how many and each year the figure grew with the story’s telling. Carved Muslim heads decorated the archway of the Convent that was built around the place where She had appeared. In the Convent chapel, at the top of the altar steps, was a small patch of polished granite; the place of the Holy Footfall.

And each year on December 8th, the Day of the Miracle, women came to Adrados. It was a woman’s day, not a man’s, and the men would go to the village inn once they had carried the statue of the Virgin, its jewels swaying beneath the gilded canopy, round the village bounds and back to the Convent.

The Nuns had left the Convent two hundred years before, attracted to plumper houses in the plains, unable to compete with the towns where the Holy Mother had been more generous in her appearance, yet the buildings were still good. The chapel became the village church, the upper cloister was a store-place, and one day a year the Convent was still a place for miracles.

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Categories: Cornwell, Bernard