Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

Spears talked. His words were punctuated by the coughing, the spitting of blood. He whined at times, tried to wriggle, but the sword was always close and, bit by horrid bit, Sharpe took the story from him. It depressed Sharpe, it saddened him. Spears pleaded for understanding, forgiveness even, but it was a tale of honour sold. Spears had told Sharpe, weeks before, that he had been nearly captured by Leroux. He had told of escaping through a window, tearing his arm to shreds, but the story was not true.

Lord Spears had never escaped from Leroux. He had been captured and had signed his parole. Leroux, he said, had talked to him through a long night, had drunk with him, and found the weakness. They had made a bargain. Information for money. Spears sold Colquhoun Grant, the army’s finest Exploring Officer, and Leroux gave him five hundred Napoleons and all had been gambled away. “I thought I might get the town house back, at least.”

“Go on.”

He had sold the list stolen from Hogan’s papers; the list of men paid by Britain for information. He had made ten gold coins a head, then lost it at the tables, and then, he said, Sharpe spoiled everything. He had chased Leroux into the fortresses and Spears thought his paymaster was gone, trapped, and then Helena had asked for him, talked with him, and the money had started coming again. And all the while Leroux had Spears’ parole, the piece of paper that proved Spears was a liar, that he had been a prisoner once, and the paper was held against Spears. If he double-crossed them, he said, then Leroux threatened to send the paper to Wellington. Leroux had made a slave of Spears, a well-paid slave, and who would ever suspect an English lord? The clerks, the grooms, the servants, the cooks, the lesser people of the Headquarters had all been under suspicion, but not Lord Spears, Crazy Jack, the man who livened parties and used his wit and charm to entrance the world, and all the time he was a spy.

There was more. Sharpe knew there would be more. He had taken his sword away, was sitting beside Spears, and the cavalryman confessed all, almost glad to spill it out, yet there was a reticence at the end of his story. The grass fires were dying. The moaning and the musket shots were lower and fewer from the battlefield, the wind had reached its night chill. Sharpe looked at the grey blade that stretched in front of him. “El Mirador?”

“He’s safe.”


Spears shrugged. “He’s in a monastery today. Bowing and scraping.”

“You didn’t sell him?”

Spears laughed, and the sound was harsh and bubbling because of the blood in his throat. He swallowed and grimaced. “I didn’t need to. Leroux had already found out.”

As Hogan had suspected. “Sweet God.” Sharpe stared at the field after battle. He had once feared for La Marquesa’s body beneath Leroux’s torture, now he flinched from the thought of the elderly priest racked on a blood soaked table. “But you said he’s safe?”

Curtis was safe, but he was an old man. Old men worry, Spears said, about dying before their work is done, and so Curtis had written the names and addresses of all his correspondents in a small, leather book. It was disguised as one of his notebooks of astronomical observations, filled with star charts and Latin names, but the codes could be broken.

Leroux had bided his time. He had planned to take Curtis when the British had gone, but then came news of a great British victory, and he had demanded that Spears fetch the priest. Spears’ voice was small now. “I couldn’t do that. So I fetched him the book instead.”

Leroux no longer needed El Mirador. With the book in his hands he could find all the correspondents who wrote faithfully from throughout Europe and he could take them one by one, kill them, and Britain would be blind. Sharpe shook his head in disbelief. “Why didn’t you just lie? Why did you have to give them the book? They didn’t know about it!”

“I thought they’d reward me.” Lord Spears was pathetic.

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