Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell


Spears’ sabretache was lying on the bank and he reached for it, failed, and flapped a hand at it. “There are cigars in there. Would you?”

Sharpe opened the flap. A pistol lay on the top, which he put to one side, and beneath it were wrapped cigars and a tinder box. He blew the charred linen into a small flame, lit two cigars, and handed one to Spears. Sharpe rarely smoked, but tonight, in this sadness, he wanted a cigar. The smell reminded him of La Marquesa. The smoke drifted away on the breeze from the dead.

Spears made a small sound that could have been a laugh. “I didn’t even have to be here.”

“At the battle?”

“No.” He drew on the cigar, making the tip bright. “In the army.” He sighed, shifted himself. “My elder brother got the inheritance. He was such a tedious man, Richard, so utterly tedious. We had a mutual, brotherly hatred. Then two weeks before he was to get married, God answered my prayers. He fell off his bloody nag and broke his fat neck. And I got everything. Money, estate, houses, the lot.” His voice was low, almost hoarse. He seemed to want to talk. “I was already over here and I didn’t want to go back.” He turned towards Sharpe and grinned. “There’s too much joy in this war. Does that make sense?”

“Yes.” Sharpe knew the joy of war. No other thing gave such excitement, or asked such a price. He stared at the grass fires which scorched the flesh of the wounded and dead. War had brought Sharpe promotion, a wife, La Marquesa, and it could yet kill him as it Was killing Spears. Capricious Fate.

Spears coughed and this time he wiped blood from his lips. “I gambled the whole lot away. Jesus God! Every bloody penny.”


“Twice over. You don’t gamble, do you?”


Spears grinned. “You’re very tedious for a hero.” He coughed and turned his head to spit blood on the grass. Most of it went onto Sharpe’s greatcoat. “It’s like standing on a clifftop and knowing you can fly. There’s nothing like it, nothing. Except war and women.”

The wind was cooler now, chilling the skin of Sharpe’s face. He pulled Spears’jacket over the wound. He wished he had known this man better; Spears had offered friendship and Sharpe had been wary of it. Now he felt very close to Spears as the blood seeped into the lungs.

Spears pulled on the cigar, coughed again, and the blood flecked his cheeks. He turned his face towards Sharpe. “Will you do something for me?”

“Of course.”

“Write to my sister. Hogan’s got her address. Tell her I died well. Tell her I died a hero.” He smiled in self-deprecation. “Do you promise?”

“I promise.” Sharpe looked upwards. The stars were the camp fires of a limitless heavenly army. Beneath them, the fires of the victorious British were dull. The muskets sounded far away as men dispatched the wounded.

Spears blew out a spume of smoke. “Her name’s Dorothy. Ugly name. I do like her. I want her to know I died well. It’s the least I can do now.”

„I’ll tell her.“

Spears seemed to ignore Sharpe’s words. “I’ve ruined her life, Richard. No money, no inheritance, no dowry. She’ll have to marry some bloody tradesman to get his money and in return he’ll get her body and some noble blood.” His voice was very bitter. “Poor Dorothy.” He took a deep breath that rasped in his throat. “I’m broke, I’m poxed, and I’ve disgraced the family. But if I die a hero, then at least she has that. A lot of people won’t cash my notes of hand. Bad behaviour when a fellow has just died for King and Country.” Spears laughed, and the blood was dark on his skin. “You can live as bad as you like, Richard, as long as you can, but if you die for your country you’ll be forgiven everything. Everything.” Spears turned away from Sharpe so he could stare into the immensity of the battlefield’s sadness. “I used to get dragged to bloody church every Sunday. We went into the private pew and all the peasants tugged their forelocks. Then the bloody preacher got up on his back trotters and warned us about gambling, drunkenness, and fornication. He gave me all my ambitions in life.” He coughed again, worse this time, and there was a pause as he forced air into his lungs. “I just want Dorothy to know I was a hero. They can put a marble plaque in the church. The last of the Spears, dead at Salamanca.”

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