Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

“Yes, sir.” Sharpe turned to one of the houses in the village where the South Essex had bivouacked. The dawn was a grey line in the east. “Sergeant!”


“The bloody frog’s sword!”

“Sharpe!” Colonel Windham’s protest sounded resigned.

Patrick Harper turned and bellowed into one of the houses. “Mr. McDonald, sir! The French gentleman’s sword, sir, if you’d get a move on, sir!”

McDonald, Sharpe’s new Ensign, just sixteen years old and desperately eager to please his famous Captain, hurried from the house with the beautiful, scabbarded blade. He tripped in his haste, was held by Harper, and then he came to Sharpe and gave him the sword.

God, but he wanted it! He had handled the weapon during . the night, feeling its balance, knowing the power of the plain, shining steel, and Sharpe had felt the lust to own this sword. This was a thing of lethal beauty, made by a master, worthy of a great fighter.

“Monsieur?” Delmas’s voice was mild, polite.

Beyond Delmas Sharpe could see Lossow, the Captain of the German Cavalry and Sharpe’s friend, who had driven Delmas into the prepared trap. Lossow had held the sword too, and shaken his head in mute wonder at the weapon. Now he watched as Sharpe handed the weapon to the

Frenchman, a symbol that he had given his parole and could be trusted with his personal weapon.

Windham gave an exaggerated sigh. “Now, perhaps, we can start?”

The Light Company marched first behind Lossow’s cavalry screen, striking up onto the plains before the day’s heat rose in the sky to blind them with sweat and choke them with warm, gritty dust. Sharpe went on foot, unlike most officers, because he had always gone on foot. He had entered the army as a private, wearing the red jacket of the line Regiments and marching with a heavy musket on his shoulder. Later, much later, he had made the impossible jump from Sergeant to officer, joining the elite Rifles with their distinctive green jacket, but Sharpe still marched on foot. He was an infantryman and he marched as his men marched, and he carried a rifle as they carried their rifles or muskets. The South Essex were a redcoat Battalion, but Sharpe, Sergeant Harper, and the nucleus of the Light Company were all Riflemen, accidentally attached to the Battalion, and they proudly retained their dark green jackets.

Light flooded grey on the plain, the sun hinting with a pale red strip in the east of the heat to come, and Sharpe could see the dark shapes of the cavalry outlined on the dawn. The British were marching east, invading French-held Spain, aiming at the great city of Salamanca. Most of the army was far to the south, marching on a dozen roads, while the South Essex with Lossow’s men and a handful of Engineers had been sent north to destroy a small French fort that guarded a ford across the Tormes. The job had been done, the fort abandoned by the enemy, and now the South Essex marched to rejoin Wellington’s troops. It would take two days before they were back with the army and Sharpe knew they would be days of relentless heat as they crossed the dry plain.

Captain Lossow dropped behind his cavalry to be beside Sharpe. He nodded down at the Rifleman. “I don’t trust your Frenchman, Richard.”

“Nor do I.”

Lossow was not discouraged by Sharpe’s curt tone. He was used to Sharpe’s morning surliness. “It’s strange, I think, for a Dragoon to have a straight sword. He should have a sabre, yes?”

“True.” Sharpe made an effort to sound more sociable. “We should have killed the bastard in the wood.”

“That’s true. It’s the only thing to do with Frenchmen. Kill them.” Lossow laughed. Like most of the Germans in Britain’s army, he came from a homeland that had been overrun by Napoleon’s troops. “I wonder what happened to the second man.”

“You lost him.”

Lossow grinned at the insult. “Never. He hid himself. I hope the Partisans get him.” The German drew a finger across his throat to hint at the way the Spanish Guerilleros treated their French captives. Then he smiled down at Sharpe. “You wanted his sword, ja?”

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