Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

“Horse-dealers.” Leroux shrugged. “We buy horses. We’re cavalry.”

The tall Rifle Officer heard the translation and looked at the paper. It could be true. He shrugged and pushed the paper into his pack. He took Leroux’s sword from the big sergeant and the Frenchman could see the sudden lust in the Rifle Officer’s eyes. Curiously for an infantryman, the Rifleman also wore a heavy cavalry sword, but where Leroux’s was expensive and beautiful, the Rifle Officer’s sword was cheap and crude. The British officer held the sword and felt the perfect balance. He wanted it. “Ask what his name is.”

The question was asked and answered. “Paul Delmas, sir. Captain in the Fifth Dragoons.”

Leroux saw the dark eyes rest on him. The scar on the Rifleman’s face gave him a mocking look. Leroux could recognise the man’s competence and hardness, he recognised too the temptation that the Rifleman had to kill him at this moment and take the sword for himself. Leroux looked about the clearing. The other Riflemen seemed just as pitiless, just as tough. Leroux spoke again.

“He wants to give his parole, sir.” The Rifleman translated.

The Rifle Officer said nothing for a moment. He walked slowly about the prisoner, the beautiful sword still in his hand, and when he spoke he did so slowly and clearly. “So what’s Captain Delmas doing on his own? French officers don’t travel alone, they’re too frightened of the Partisans.” He had come in front of Leroux again, and the Frenchman’s pale eyes watched the scarred officer. “And you’re too bloody cocky, Delmas. You should be more scared. You’re up to no bloody good.” He was behind Leroux now. “I think I’ll bloody kill you.”

Leroux did not react. He did not blink, did not move, but just waited until the Rifle Officer was in front of him again.

The tall Rifle Officer stared at the pale eyes as if they would give him a clue to the riddle of the officer’s sudden appearance. “Bring him along, Sergeant. But watch the bastard.”

“Yes, sir!” Sergeant Patrick Harper pushed the Frenchman towards the path and followed Captain Richard Sharpe out of the wood.

Leroux relaxed. The moment of capture was always the moment of greatest danger, but the tall Rifleman was taking him to safety, and with him went the secret Napoleon wanted. El Mirador.


“God damn it, Sharpe! Hurry, man!”

“Yes, sir.” Sharpe made no attempt to hurry. He painstakingly read the piece of paper, knowing that his slowness irritated Lieutenant Colonel Windham. The Colonel slapped a booted leg with his riding crop.

“We haven’t got all day, Sharpe! There’s a war to win.”

“Yes, sir.” Sharpe repeated the words in a patient, stubborn tone. He would not hurry. This was his revenge on Windham for allowing Captain Delmas to have parole. He tipped the paper so that the firelight illuminated the black ink.

“I, the undersigned, Paul Delmas, Captain in the Fifth Regiment of Dragoons, taken prisoner by the English Forces on 14th june, 1812, undertake upon my Honour not to seek to Escape nor to Remove myself from Captivity without Permission, and not pass any Knowledge to the French Forces or their Allies, until I have been Exchanged, Rank for Rank, or Otherwise Released from this Bond. Signed, Paul Delmas. Witnessed by me, Joseph Forrest, Major in His Britannic Majesty’s South Essex Regiment.”

Colonel Windham rapped with his crop again, the noise loud in the predawn chill. “Dammit, Sharpe!”

“Seems to be in order, Sir.”

“Order! Blood and hounds, Sharpe! Who are you to say What’s in order! Good God! I say it’s in order! I do! Remember me, Sharpe? Your commanding officer?”

Sharpe grinned. “Yes, sir.” He handed the parole up to Windham who took it with elaborate courtesy.

“Thank you, Mr. Sharpe. We have your gracious permission to get bloody moving?”

“Carry on, sir.” Sharpe grinned again. He had come to like Windham in the six months that the Colonel had commanded the South Essex, a regard that was also held by the Colonel for his wayward and brilliant Captain of the Light Company. Now, though, Windham still seethed with impatience.

“His sword, Sharpe! For God’s sake, man! Hurry!”

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