Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

Leroux had not yet given up. He had not expected this – what man could? He had ridden all night, looping far to the south to avoid British cavalry patrols, and at Alba de Tormes, in the dawn, he had pulled off the heavy cassock that had been his disguise. He had thought himself safe in the square. He had never seen a square broken, never, not even when he had charged with the Emperor himself. And now this!

Leroux could see the German horsemen all around the surrendering square, yet there were not many. Most had ridden on to the two French Battalions in the rear. It would still be possible for the Frenchman to break out, to ride north for a mile before turning east, and he rode to the north side of the square, shouted at the ranks to split, and then he saw Sharpe coming directly at him. That damned Rifleman! He had thought Sharpe dead, wished him dead, had treasured his memory of the screams on the upper cloister, and then his idiot sister had taken a fancy to the man, protected him, and the bastard was back. This time he would kill him. He drew the pistol, the deadly, rifled pistol, from its chest holster and levelled it over the ranks of the square. He could not miss. He pulled the trigger.

Sharpe hauled on the rein, leaned back, and La Marquesa’s horse reared up, hooves flailing, and the bullet took the horse in the throat. Sharpe kicked the stirrups free, pushed desperately away from the saddle, and then he was rolling on the grass as the horse fell at the French ranks. The men shrank back, pushed back, and Sharpe snarled at them, picked up his sword, and plunged into their ranks.

They could have killed him, any one of them, yet they wanted only to surrender. They let Sharpe through, their faces dull, and he snatched a musket from a man in the rear rank. The French soldiers watched the tall Rifleman, feared him, and not one lifted a finger against him.

Leroux was shouting at another face of the square, beating with the flat of his Kligenthal, and Sharpe propped his own sword against his leg, checked the unfamiliar pan of the musket, and levelled it. His rifle was on his back, still without ammunition, and this heavy, strange musket would have to suffice. He pulled the trigger.

Powder stung his face, the kick slammed his shoulder, the smoke blinded him. He tossed the musket down, picked up his sword, and Leroux was hit! He was clutching his left leg, blood showing, and the ball must have passed through the flesh of his thigh, through the saddle, and stung the horse. It reared up in sudden pain and Leroux had to snatch at its mane, he tried to control it, but it reared again and he was falling.

The square had surrendered. Some Germans already pushed their way into its centre and one of them took a strip of the tasselled gold cloth that had been the French standard and waved it high, shouting at his comrades. The French soldiers sat down, muskets beside them, resigned to their fate.

Leroux struck the ground, was winded, and the pain in his left leg made him wince. He had dropped the Kligenthal and he could not see because his big, round, fur hat had slipped over his eyes. He knelt up, pushed the hat back, and the Kligenthal was on the ground. A boot was across the blade. Leroux slowly looked up, past the black trousers, past the tattered green jacket, and he saw his own death in the eyes of the Rifleman.

Sharpe saw the fear in the pale eyes. He stepped back a pace, releasing the Kligenthal, and smiled at Leroux. “Get up, you bastard.”


The two French Battalions at the rear were not shaken by the breaking of the squares. They fired coolly, their discipline tight, and the German horsemen were cut down by the volleys.

In the small valley the squares had been broken. Prisoners were being herded, many with the dreadful cuts on their heads and shoulders where the great blades had fallen. The horses heaved to get their breath. Cavalrymen stood still, disbelieving what they had done, and their swords were held low and blood dripped from the tips. They had done the impossible. Some men laughed in relief, an almost wild laughter, and the French prisoners, now passion was spent, offered the victors wine from their canteens.

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