Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe parried a lunge, twisted his sword over the Kligenthal so the blades scraped, and lunged himself, checked, lunged again, and he saw the pain in the pale eyes as Leroux was forced onto his back foot. Sharpe would kill this man, and he would enjoy it. He would enjoy the retribution as a man could enjoy the death of a child-murderer at Tyburn, or the shooting of a deserter after battle. Death was sometimes public because people needed death, they needed retribution, and Tyburn’s gallows gave more pleasure than pain. That might be bad, but that is the way of people, and Sharpe’s sword tip hit the guard of the Kligenthal, forced it wide, came free when Leroux’s arm was off balance and Sharpe brought the blade scything back so it cut across Leroux’s chest, then back again so the sword cut Leroux’s forearm, and Sharpe knew this man would die.

He would die for McDonald, for Windham, for the unnamed Spaniards, for Spears, for El Mirador, for Sharpe himself, and Leroux knew it, for he became desperate. His right arm was wounded so he held his wrist with his left hand and scythed the Kligenthal in a glittering, air singing blow and Sharpe stepped back, let the blade pass, and then shouted his exultation as he lunged forward, picking his spot, and he did not hear Hogan shouting at him, nor Harper’s cry of acclamation, for the blade was going into Leroux’s body at the exact place where Leroux had wounded Sharpe, and Leroux let the Kligenthal go, his mouth opened, and his hands clutched at the blade that still pierced him, a flesh-hook that tortured him, that went through skin and muscle and tore the scream from him.

He fell. He was not dead yet. The pale eyes were wide. He drew up his legs as Sharpe had drawn up his legs, he gasped air into his lungs so that the scream could fight the pain that he had made Sharpe fight for two weeks, and then Sharpe twisted the sword free, held the point above Leroux’s throat, and finished him off.

He left his sword swaying above the lifeless Frenchman and stepped back. Leroux was dead.

Hogan had watched Sharpe’s anger. He rarely saw the Rifleman fight. He had been awed by Sharpe’s skill, troubled by the turbulence of his friend, and he saw the distaste that crossed Sharpe’s face when it was all done. Leroux was no longer the enemy, no longer Napoleon’s man, he was a pathetic, cringeing corpse. Hogan’s voice was mild. “Wouldn’t he surrender?”

“No, sir.” Sharpe shook his head. “He was a stubborn bastard.”

Sharpe picked up the Kligenthal, the sword he had wanted so much, and it could have been made for him. It settled in his right hand like a part of himself. It was a beautiful and deadly weapon.

He undipped Leroux’s snake-clasp belt, tugged the sword slings free from the body, and strapped the scabbard over his own scabbard. He pushed the Kligenthal home. His Kligenthal.

Leroux’s black sabretache was spotted with blood. Sharpe lifted the flap and there, on top, was a small leather notebook. He opened it, saw a star chart surrounded by a strange language, and tossed it to Hogan.“ That’s what we wanted, sir.”

Hogan looked at the dead in the valley, at the prisoners, and he looked at the survivors of the King’s German Legion Heavy Dragoons who walked their horses back from the unsuccessful attack on the remaining two French Battalions. The Germans had won a great victory, at great price, and the valley was stinking of blood. Hogan looked at the book, then at Sharpe. “Thank you, Richard.”

“My pleasure, sir.”

Sharpe was taking Leroux’s overalls. He had worn overalls exactly like these until the fight in the Irish College. Now he had killed another Chasseur Colonel. Leroux’s overalls still had the silver buttons down their legs and Sharpe grinned as he held them up. He wiped his sword clean on them.

Leroux’s sister had once asked Sharpe if he enjoyed killing and he had given her no answer. He could have replied that sometimes it was terrible, that often it was sad, that usually it happened without any emotion, but that sometimes, rarely, like this day, there were no regrets. He picked up his own sword, the crude sword that had won the fight, and smiled at Harper. “Breakfast?”

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