Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

“Why the hell did you do it?”

“I didn’t want to miss the battle.” Spears put his fingers on the blood, lifted them away and looked at his fingertips in horror.

“It was a crazy thing to do. The battle was over.” Sharpe cut with his pocket knife at Spears’ shirt, tearing away the clean linen to make a pad for the wound.

Spears gave a lopsided grin. “All heroes are crazy.” He tried to laugh and the laugh turned into a cough. He put his head back on the pillow. “I’m dying.” He said it very calmly.

Sharpe put the pad on the wound, pressed gently and Spears flinched because the bullet had broken a rib. Sharpe took his hand away. “You won’t die.”

Spears twisted his head and watched Sharpe’s face. His voice had some of his old, impish charm. “Actually, Richard, at the risk of sounding frightfully heroic and dramatic, I rather want to die.” The tears that were in his eyes belied his words. He sniffed and turned his head back so he stared upwards. “That’s awfully embarrassing, I know. Apologies.” Sharpe said nothing. He stared at the fires that threaded the battlefield, grass fires, and at the mysterious lumps that were broken bodies. A wind came off the field and brought the smell of victory; smoke, powder, blood, and burning flesh. Sharpe had known other men want to die, but never someone who was a lord, who was handsome, charming, and who now apologised again. “I did embarrass you. Forget I spoke.”

Sharpe sat beside him. “I’m not embarrassed. I don’t believe you.”

For a moment neither man spoke. Musket shots came flat over the battlefield; either looters being discouraged or men putting other men out of their misery. Spears turned his head again. “I never slept with La Marquesa.”

Sharpe was startled by the sudden, strange confession. He shrugged. “Does it matter?”

Spears nodded slowly. “Say thank you.”

Sharpe, not understanding, humoured him. “Thank you.”

Spears looked up again. “I tried, Richard. God, I tried. That wasn’t very decent of me.” His voice was low, directed at the stars.

It seemed a strange guilt and Sharpe still did not understand why Spears had raised the subject. “I don’t think she took offence.”

“No she didn’t.” Spears paused. “Crazy Jack.”

Sharpe drew his feet in, as if to get up. “Let me fetch a doctor.”

“No. No doctor.” Spears put a hand on Sharpe’s arm. “No doctor, Richard. Can you keep a secret?”

Sharpe nodded. “Yes.”

Spears took his hand away. His breath was heavy in his throat. He seemed to be making up his mind whether to speak or not, but finally he said it. His voice was very bitter. “I’ve got the Black Lion. Dear God! The Black Lion.”


“Oh, God.” Sharpe did not know what to say.

The two men were on the edge of the battlefield, the edge of an immense expanse of misery. Shadows crossed in front of the intermittent flames, dogs howled at the half moon that silvered the humped shapes of the wounded and dead. The guns that had shattered the French rearguard were left where they had fired, and their barrels cooled in the night wind. From far across the dark field came the sound of singing. A group of men round a fire were celebrating their survival. Sharpe looked at Spears. “How long have you known?”

Spears shrugged. “Two years.”

“Oh, God.” Sharpe felt the hopelessness of it. All men feared it, of course, it lurked in the shadows like the dark beast that the army nicknamed it. The Black Lion, the worst kind of pox, the pox that killed a man through senility, blindness, and gibbering madness. Sharpe had once paid his pennies to walk through Bedlam, the mad-house in London’s Moorfields, and he had seen the syphilitic patients in their small, foul cages. The patients could earn a small pittance, thrown farthings, by capering and displaying themselves. The Insane of Bedlam were one of the sights of London, more popular even than the public executions. Spears faced a long, filthy, agonising death. Sharpe looked at him. “Is that why you did this?”

The handsome face nodded. “Yes. You won’t tell?”

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128

Leave a Reply 0

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *