Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

“Kill the bastards. Go on! Get in with them!” And the cheer carried them up the slope, screaming mad, wanting only to get at the men who had threatened them during the long approach march, and Sharpe ran ahead of his men with his long sword ready.

“Halt! Form up! Hurry!”

The enemy had gone. They had fled the bayonets as Sharpe had guessed they would. The enemy Battalions were running full tilt back towards the main army, and the redcoats were left holding the small knoll which bore the dead and wounded of their enemy. The looting had begun already, practised hands stripping the casualties of clothes and money. Sharpe sheathed his unblooded sword. It had been well done, but now he wondered what was next. Twelve hundred British troops held the small hill, the only British troops on a plain that was peopled with more than fifty thousand Frenchmen. That was not his concern. He settled down to wait.

“They’ve run away!” La Marquesa sounded disappointed.

Lord Spears grinned. “That was only a ten guinea battle, my dear. For two hundred you get the whole spectacle; slaughter, dismemberment, pillage, and even a little rape.”

“Is that where you come in, Jack?”

Spears laughed. “I’ve waited so long for that invitation, Helena.”

“You’ll have to wait a little longer, dear.” She smiled at him. “Was that Richard Sharpe?”

“It was. A genuine hero, and all for ten guineas.”

“Which I doubt I’ll ever see. Is he truly a hero?” Her huge eyes were fixed on Spears.

“Good Lord, yes! Absolutely genuine. The poor fool must have a death wish. He took an Eagle, he was first into Badajoz, and there’s a rumour he blew up Almeida.”

“How delicious.” She opened her fan. “You’re a little jealous of him, aren’t you?”

He laughed, because the accusation was not true. “I wish to have a long, long life, Helena, and die in the bed of someone very young and breathtakingly beautiful.”

She smiled. Her teeth were unusually white. “I rather want to meet a real hero, Jack. Persuade him to come to the Palacio.”

Spears twisted in his saddle, grimacing suddenly because the arm in its sling hurt. “You feel like slumming, Helena?”

She smiled. “If I do, Jack, I’ll come to you for guidance. Just bring him to me.”

He grinned and saluted. “Yes, Ma’am.”

The French would not be goaded into battle. They made no attempt to throw the British off the knoll. Marmont could not see beyond the great ridge and he feared, sensibly, to attack Wellington in a position of the Englishman’s choosing.

Smoke drifted from the knoll, dissipating into shimmering heat over the grass. Men lay on the ground and drank brackish warm water from their canteens. A few desultory fires burned from the musket fire, but no-one moved to stamp them out. Some men slept.

“Is that it?” Lieutenant Price frowned towards the French.

“You want more, Harry?” Sharpe grinned at his Lieutenant.

“I sort of expected more.” Price laughed and turned round to look at the ridge. A staff officer was riding his horse recklessly down the slope. “Here comes a fancy boy.”

“We’re probably being pulled back.”

Harper gave a massive yawn. “Perhaps they’re offering us free entrance to the staffbrothel tonight.”

“Isabella would kill you, Harps!” Price laughed at the thought. “You should be unattached, like me.”

“It’s the pox, sir. I couldn’t live with it.”

“And I can’t live without it. Hello!” Price frowned because the staff officer, instead of riding towards the Colours where the Battalion’s commanding officer would be found, was aiming straight for the Light Company. “We’ve got a visitor, sir.”

Sharpe walked to meet the staff officer who called out when he was still thirty yards away. “Captain Sharpe?”


“You’re wanted at Headquarters. Now! Do you have a horse?”


The young man frowned at the reply and Sharpe knew he was considering yielding up his own horse to expedite the General’s orders. The consideration did not last long in the face of the steep uphill climb. The staff officer smiled. “You’ll have to walk! Quick as you can, please.”

Sharpe smiled at him. “Bastard. Harry?”


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