Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell


Salamanca was honeyed gold in the sunlight. A city built like Rome on hills above a river.

The morning sunlight slanted the shadows long in the Great Plaza. The wounded, two days after the great battle at the Arapiles, still died in the hospital.

Sharpe stood on the Roman Bridge and stared down at the sinuous green weeds. He knew it was foolish to be here, maybe a waste of time, but he waited.

A company of Spanish soldiers was marched across the bridge. The officer grinned at him, waved a cigar. The men looked curiously at the two swords that hung by the grim Rifleman’s side.

A farmer drove cattle past him. Two priests went the other way, arguing violently, and Sharpe paced slowly behind them, stopped at the small fortress arched over the roadway, and walked slowly back.

The clock on the hill struck ten.

A cavalry Sergeant drove a dozen remounts into the river. They drank while he rubbed them down. The edge of the river was very shallow. Children played there, running easily to a small island, and their voices carried up to the bridge.

She might not even come this way, he thought, but she did.

Two liveried servants first, mounted on horseback, then the dark blue coach with its four white horses, and after that another coach that he presumed was for luggage or servants.

He pushed against the stone of the parapet, watched the servants ride past, then the four white horses, and then the barouche, its cover up, was opposite him.

She saw him.

He had to walk a few paces to where the barouche had stopped. He looked up. “I tried to see you.”

“I know.” She was fanning her face.

He felt awkward. The sun was hot on the back of his neck. He could feel sweat trickling below his armpit. “Are you well, Ma’am?”

She smiled. “Yes. I find myself temporarily unpopular in Salamanca.” She shrugged. “Madrid may be more welcoming.”

“You may find our army in Madrid.”

“Then I may go north.”

“A long way?”

She smiled. “A long way.” Her eyes dropped to the two swords, then back to Sharpe’s face. “Did you kill him?”

“In a fair fight.” He was embarrassed again, as he had been at their first meeting. She seemed no different. She was still beautiful, unbearably so, and it seemed impossible that she was an enemy. He shrugged. “Your horse died.”

“Did you kill it?”

“Your brother did.”

She half smiled. “He killed very easily.” Her eyes went back to the sword again, then back to Sharpe. “We were not very fond of each other.” He supposed she meant she and her brother, but he could not be sure she was not talking of himself. She shook her head. “Did you wait for me?”

He nodded. “Yes.”


He shrugged. To tell her he missed her? To tell her that it did not matter that she was French, a spy, released only because she was a Spanish aristocrat and Wellington could not afford the scandal? To tell her that amid all the lies there had been some truth? “To wish you well.”

“And I wish you well.” She mocked him gently. To Sharpe she seemed untouchable, unreachable. “Goodbye, Captain Sharpe.”

“Goodbye, Ma’am.”

She spoke to the coachman, looked back at Sharpe. “Who knows, Richard? Maybe another day.” The coach lurched forward, the last he saw was her golden hair going back into its shadows. He thought to himself that he had nothing of hers to remember her by, only memory which was the worst souvenir.

He felt in his new ammunition pouch and fingered the message that had been delivered that morning from Wellington himself. It thanked him. He supposed that Napoleon would have written similar messages to Leroux and La Marquesa if Sharpe had not taken the notebook from the shattered squares at Garcia Hernandez. After the battle they had found that was the name of the village near to the hill and the valley.

Major Hogan was expansive at lunch. Sharpe was to stay in Hogan’s old lodgings, to be fed well by the landlady, and Hogan drank well before he left. “You’re to stay and recuperate, Richard! General’s orders! We want you fully strong again.”

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