Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

„Yes, sir.“

“Forrest will wait for you, don’t worry. Your Company’s safe.”

“Any news of a new Colonel?”

Hogan shook his head, belched, and patted his stomach. “Not yet. I think Lawford would like it again, but I don’t know.” He shrugged. “Forrest might get it. I don’t know, Richard.” He pushed a forefinger into Sharpe’s side. “You should be thinking about it.”

“Me! I’m a captain.” Sharpe grinned and bit into cold beef.

Hogan poured more wine. “Think about it! A majority next. Then Lieutenant Colonel. It could happen, Richard. It’s going to be a long bloody war. We just heard the Americans are in now, they may be in Quebec for all we know.“ He sipped his wine. ”Can you afford a Majority?“

“Me!” Sharpe laughed. “They’re two thousand six hundred pounds. Where do you think I can get that kind of money?”

Hogan smiled. “Don’t you usually get what you want, Richard?”

Sharpe shrugged. “I get the rainbows, sir. Never the pots of gold.”

Hogan twisted his glass in his hands. “There was one other thing, Richard, a smallish thing. I’ve been talking to Father Curtis and he did say something odd. He says that notebook was well hidden, truly well hidden, and he can’t imagine how Leroux could have found it.”

“Leroux was a clever man, sir.”

“Aye, maybe. But Curtis was sure it was too well hidden. Only Lord Spears, he says, knew where it was.” His shrewd eyes were on Sharpe.

“Really, sir?” Sharpe poured more wine.

“Does that strike you as odd?”

“Spears is dead, sir. He died well.”

Hogan nodded. “I hear his body was some way from all the others. Some way from the fighting, in fact. Odd?”

Sharpe shook his head. “He could have crawled away, sir.”

“Yes. With a hole in his head. I’m sure you’re right, Richard.” Hogan swirled the wine in his glass. His voice was still neutral. “The only reason I ask is that I do have a responsibility for finding whoever was the spy in our headquarters. I can make myself unpleasant, I suppose, turn over a lot of stones, but you do understand me, I’m sure.”

“I don’t think you need to be unpleasant, sir.”

“Good, good.” Hogan grinned at Sharpe, raised his glass. “Well done, Richard.”

“What for, sir?”

“Nothing, nothing.” Hogan toasted him all the same.

Hogan rode away that afternoon, going eastwards to the army that now marched towards Madrid. Harper left with him, mounted on one of Hogan’s spare horses, and for the second time that day Sharpe found himself on the Roman Bridge. He looked up at Harper. “Good luck.”

“We’ll see you soon, sir?”

“Very soon.” Sharpe touched his stomach. “It hardly hurts.”

“You’ve got to be careful, sir. I mean it killed that Frenchman.”

Sharpe laughed. “He wasn’t careful.”

Hogan bent down and shook Sharpe’s hand. “Take your time, Richard! There won’t be another battle.”

“No, sir.”

Hogan smiled at him. “And how long are you going to wear two swords, eh? You look ridiculous!”

Sharpe grinned and unclasped the Kligenthal. He offered it to Hogan. “You want it?”

“Good Lord, no! It’s yours, Richard. You won it.”

But a man only needs one sword. Harper watched Sharpe, he knew how Sharpe had craved after the Kligenthal, he had seen Sharpe hold the sword last night. The Kligenthal had been forged by a genius, shaped by a master, a weapon of contained beauty. To look at it was to fear it, to see it in the hands of a man who could use it, like Sharpe, was to understand the mind that had made this sword. It seemed to weigh nothing in Sharpe’s hand, so perfectly balanced was the steel, and the Rifleman drew it out now, slowly, so the steel shone like oiled silk in the sun.

The sword at his side, the sword that Harper had given him, was crude and ill-balanced. It was too long for an infantryman, it was clumsy, and it was stamped out with hundreds more in an ill-lit Birmingham factory. Beside the Kligenthal it was raw, cheap, and crude.

Yet Harper had worked the cheap sword as a talisman against Sharpe’s death. Something more than friendship had gone into the blade. It did not matter that it was cheap. The cheap sword had beaten the Kligenthal, the expensive sword, and there was luck in the blade. Dozens of similar swords had simply been left at Garcia Hernandez after the charge, not worth the bother of picking up, and the peasants would fashion them into long knives. Yet Sharpe’s sword was lucky. There was a soldiers’ goddess and her name was Fate and she had liked the sword Harper made for Sharpe. The Kligenthal was stained with the blood of friends, with the torture of flayed priests, and the beautiful sword contained not luck, but evil.

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