Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

“Right. El Mirador, the best damned spy in Britain’s service, and our job is to stop Leroux finding El Mirador. And the easiest way to do that, Richard, is for you to stop Leroux. He’ll try and escape, I know that, and I can guess when he’ll do it.”


“During our attack on the forts. He can’t do it at any other time. We’ve got those forts surrounded, but in the turmoil of a fight, Richard, he’ll have his plans ready. Stop him!”

That’s all? Stop him? Capture him?“

“That’s all, but don’t underestimate him. Capture him and give him to me and I promise you Colonel Leroux will not see daylight again till this war’s over. We’ll lock him up so tight he’ll wish he hadn’t been born.”

Sharpe thought about it. It would not be so difficult. The Sixth Division had sealed off the forts, and even in an attack the cordon of men would still ring the wasteland. All that would be left was for Sharpe, or one of his Company, to recognise Leroux among the prisoners. He grinned at Hogan, wanting to cheer him up. “Consider it done.”

“If you’re doing it, Richard, I will.” It was a nice compliment.

They had ridden close to the hill on which the spectators had gathered and Sharpe looked to his right to see a grinning figure coming towards them on a fiery, well-ridden horse. Even one-handed Lord Spears was a finer horseman than Sharpe could hope to be. His Lordship was in high spirits.

“Michael Hogan! By the Good Lord! You’re looking dull as a parson, sir! Where are your Irish spirits? Your carefree, devil-may-care attitude to life’s daily toil?”

Hogan looked with some fondness at the cavalryman. “Jack! How’s the arm?”

“Totally mended, sir. As good as the day it was born. I’m keeping it in a sling so you won’t send me back to work. Richard Sharpe! I watched your Company at work. They were hungry!”

“They’re good.”

“And you’re both invited to a pique-nique. Now.” He grinned at them.

“A what?” Hogan frowned.

“A pique-nique. It’s a French word, but I suppose we’ll all be using it soon. For you peasants who don’t speak French it means a simple, light repast taken in the open air. We’ve got chicken, ham, spiced sausages, some delicious cake, and best of all some wine. We, of course, are myself and La Marquesa de Casares el Grande y Melida Sadaba. You’re both specifically invited.”

Hogan smiled. It seemed that Sharpe accepting the responsibility for Leroux had lifted a weight from his shoulders. “La Marquesa! It’s time I rubbed shoulders with the aristocracy!”

“What about me?” Spears looked aggrieved. “Am I not noble enough for you? Good Lord! When my ancestors ate the forbidden fruit in Eden they insisted on having it served on a silver platter. You’re coming?” This last he addressed to Sharpe.

Sharpe shrugged. Hogan was insisting on going, so Sharpe was forced to follow, and though part of him yearned to see La Marquesa again, another, greater part of him was scared of the encounter. He hated being tempted by things he could not have, and he could feel his mood becoming surly as he climbed the hill behind Hogan and Spears.

La Marquesa watched them come. She raised a languid hand in greeting. “Captain Sharpe! You’ve at last accepted one of my invitations!”

“I’m with Major Hogan, Ma’am.” The instant he said it, he regretted it. He had been trying to say that he had not come willingly, that he was not her slave, but his words made it sound as though he had need to be forced into her company. She smiled.

“I owe Major Hogan my thanks.” She turned her lavish beauty onto the Irishman. “We’ve met, Major.”

“Indeed we have, Ma’am. At Ciudad Rodrigo, I remember.”

“So do I, you were most charming.”

“The Irish usually are, Ma’am.”

“Such a pity the English haven’t learned from their neighbours.” She looked at Sharpe who sat, miserable, on his uncomfortable horse. She smiled again at Hogan. “You’re well?”

“Indeed, Ma’am, and thank you, Ma’am. Yourself? Your husband?”

“My husband, ah!” She fanned her face. “Poor Luis is in South America, suppressing one of our Colonial rebellions. It seems so silly. You’re here to liberate our country while Luis is busy doing the opposite somewhere else.” She laughed, then looked again at Sharpe. “My husband, Captain Sharpe, is a soldier, like you.”

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Categories: Cornwell, Bernard