Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

“Take over! Tell the Major I’ve been called to see the General!”

“Aye aye, sir! Give him my best wishes!”

Sharpe walked away from the Company, between the small fires, and up the hillside that was littered with the torn cartridge papers of his skirmishers. Leroux. It had to be Leroux who was pulling Sharpe back towards the city. Leroux, his enemy, and the man who possessed the sword Sharpe wanted. He smiled..He would have it yet.


Wellington was angry, the officers about him nervous of his irritability. They watched Sharpe walk up to the General and salute.

Wellington scowled from the saddle. “By God, you took your time, Mr. Sharpe.”

“I came as fast as I could, my lord.”

“Dammit! Don’t you have a horse?”

“I’m an infantryman, sir.” It was an insolent reply, one that made the aristocratic aides-de-camp that Wellington liked look sharply at the dishevelled, hot Rifleman with the scarred face and battered weapons. Sharpe was not worried. He knew his man. He had saved the General’s life in India and ever since there had been a strange bond between them. The bond was not of friendship, never that, but a bond of need. Sharpe needed a patron, however remote, and Wellington sometimes had reluctant need of a ruthless and efficient soldier. Each man had a respect for the other. The General looked sourly at Sharpe. “So they didn’t fight?”

“No, sir.”

“God damn his French soul.” He was talking of Marshal Marmont. “They march all this bloody way just to pose for us? God damn them! So you met Leroux?” He asked the question in exactly the same tone in which he had damned the French.

“Yes, my lord.”

“You’d recognise him again?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Good.” Wellington sounded far from pleased. “He’s not to escape from us, d’you understand? You’re to capture him. Understand?”

Sharpe understood. He would be going back to Salamanca and his job, suddenly, was to trap the pale-eyed French Colonel who even had Wellington worried. “I understand, sir.”

“Thank God somebody does.” The General snapped. “I’m putting you under Major Hogan’s command. He seems to have the knack of making you to the line, God knows how. Good day, Mr. Sharpe.”

“My lord?” Sharpe raised his voice for the General was already wheeling away.

“What is it?”

“I have a whole Company that would recognise him, sir.”

“You do, do you?” Wellington’s bad mood had driven him into clumsy sarcasm. “You want me to strip the South Essex of a Light Company just to make your life easier?”

“There are three forts, my lord, a long perimeter, and one man can’t have eyes everywhere.”

“Why not? They expect it of me.” Wellington laughed, breaking his bad mood with an extraordinary suddenness. “All right, Sharpe, you can have them. But don’t you lose him. Understand? You will not lose him.” The blue eyes conveyed the message.

“I won’t lose him, sir.”

Wellington half smiled. “He’s all yours, Hogan. Gentlemen!”

The staff officers trotted obediently after the General, leaving Hogan alone with Sharpe.

The Irishman laughed quietly. “You have a deep respect for senior officers, Richard, it’s what makes you into such a great soldier.”

“I’d have been here sooner if that bastard had lent me his horse.”

“He probably paid two hundred guineas for it. He reckons it’s worth more than you are. On the other hand that nag cost ten pounds, and you can borrow it.” Hogan was pointing towards his servant who was leading a spare horse towards them. Hogan had anticipated Sharpe arriving on foot and he waited as the Rifleman climbed clumsily into the saddle. “I’m sorry about the panic, Richard.”

“Is there a panic?”

“God, yes. Your piece of paper started it.”

Sharpe hated riding. He liked to be in control of his destiny, but horses seemed not to share that wish. He gingerly urged it forward, hoping it would keep pace with Hogan’s walking animal and, somehow, he managed to stay abreast. “The list?”

“Didn’t it look familiar?”

“Familiar?” Sharpe frowned. He could only remember a list of Spanish names with sums of money beside them. “No.”

Hogan glanced behind to make sure his servant was out of earshot. “It was in my handwriting, Richard.”

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