Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe looked at the startlingly handsome cavalryman. “H?”

Spears laughed. “Helena, La Marquesade tiddly-tum and tummly-tid, and the object of an army’s combined lust. Shall I tell her you’ll come?” His voice was relaxed and friendly.

“You’re Lord Spears?”

“Yes!” Spears unleashed all his charm on Sharpe. “By the Grace of God and the timely bloody death of my elder brother. But you can call me Jack, everyone else does.”

Sharpe looked again at the note. Her handwriting was childishly round, like his own. “I have other business tonight.”

“Other business!” Spears’ cry of mock amazement made some of the promenading Salamantines look curiously at the young, handsome cavalry officer. “Other business! My dear Sharpe! What other business could possibly be more important than attempting to breach the fair Helena?”

Sharpe was embarrassed. He knew Lord Spears was being friendly, but Sharpe’s encounter with the Marquesa had made him feel shabby and inadequate. “I have to see Major Hogan. Do you know him?”

“Know him?” Spears grinned. “He’s my lord and master. Of course I know Michael, but you won’t see him tonight, not unless you go south a couple of hundred miles.”

“You work for him?”

“He’s kind enough to call it work.” Spears grinned. “I’m one of his Exploring Officers.”

Sharpe looked at the young Lord with a new respect. The Exploring Officers rode far behind enemy lines, wearing full uniform so they could not be accused of spying, and relying on their swift, corn-fed horses to ride them out of trouble. They sent back a stream of information about enemy movements, entrusting their messages and maps to Spanish messengers. It was a lonely, brave life. Spears laughed. “I’ve impressed the great Sharpe, how wonderful! Was it important to see Michael?”

Sharpe shrugged. In truth he had used Hogan’s name as an excuse for avoiding La Marquesa’s invitation. “I wanted to ask him about Colonel Leroux.”

“That prize little bastard.” For the first time there was something other than gaiety in Spears’ voice. “You should have killed him.” Spears had evidently overheard the priest’s brief conversation with La Marquesa.

“You know him?”

Spears touched the sling. “Who do you think did this? He nearly caught me one dark night last week. I tumbled out of a window to escape him.” He smiled again. “Not very gallant, but I didn’t fancy the noble line of Spears coming to an end in a Spanish fleapit.” He clapped Sharpe’s shoulder with his free hand. “Michael will want to talk to you about Leroux, but in the meantime, my dear Sharpe, you are coming to the Palacio Casares tonight to drink La Marquesa’s champagne.”

Sharpe shook his head. “No, my lord.”

“My lord! My lord! Call me Jack! Now tell me you’re coming!”

Sharpe screwed the paper into a ball. He was thinking of Teresa and feeling noble that he was rejecting the invitation. “I’m not coming, my lord.”

Lord Spears watched Sharpe walk away, cutting across the circling walkers in the Plaza Mayor, and the cavalryman smiled to himself. “Ten to one you do, my friend, ten to one you do.”


Sharpe had wanted to go to La Marquesa’s; the temptation was on him all night, but he stayed away. He told himself that he did so because he did not care to go, but the truth was, and he knew it, that he was frightened of the mockery of La Marquesa’s witty, elegant friends. He would be out of place.

He drank instead, listening to the stories of his men and chasing away the one Provost who tried to challenge their presence in the city. He watched them betting on cockfights, watched them losing their money because the prize birds had been fed rum-soaked raisins, and he pretended that he would rather be with them than with anyone else. They were pleased, he knew, and he felt ashamed because it was a pretence. He watched yet another dead cockerel being taken from the blood-soaked ring, and he thought of the luminous woman with the gold hair and white skin.

Nothing kept the small group of Riflemen in Salamanca and so, the next morning, they marched early to the San Christobal Ridge where the main army waited for the French. They marched with sore heads and sour throats, leaving the city behind and going to the place they belonged.

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