Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe shrugged, then spoke the truth. „Ja.“

“You’ll get it, my friend! You’ll get it!” Lossow laughed and trotted ahead, back to his men. He truly did believe that Sharpe would get the sword, though whether the sword would make Sharpe happy was another matter. Lossow knew Sharpe. He knew the restless spirit that drove the Rifleman through this war, a spirit that drove Sharpe from achievement to achievement. Once Sharpe had wanted to capture a French standard, an Eagle, something never done before by a Briton, and he had done it at Talavera. Later he had defied the Partisans, the French, even his own side, in taking the gold across Spain, and in doing it he had met and wanted Teresa. He had won her too, marrying her just two months ago, after he had been the first man across the death-filled breach at Badajoz. Sharpe, Lossow suspected, often got what he wanted, but the achievements never seemed to satisfy. His friend, the German decided, was like a man who, searching for a crock of gold, found ten and rejected them all because the pots were the wrong shape. He laughed at the thought.

They marched two days, bivouacking early and marching before dawn and, on the morning of the third day, the dawn revealed a smear of fine dust in the sky, a great plume that showed where Wellington’s main force covered the roads leading towards Salamanca. Captain Paul Delmas, conspicuous in his strange rust-red pantaloons and with the tall, brass helmet on his head, spurred past Sharpe to stare at the dust cloud as if he hoped to see beneath it the masses of infantry, cavalry and artillery that marched to challenge the greater forces of France. Colonel Windham followed the Frenchman, but reined in beside Sharpe. “A damn fine horseman, Sharpe!”

“Yes, sir.”

Windham pushed back his bicorne hat and scratched at his greying scalp. “He seems a decent enough fellow, Sharpe.”

“You talked to him, sir?”

“Good God, no! I don’t speak Froggy. Snap! Come here! Snap!” Windham was shouting at one of his foxhounds, perpetual companions to the Colonel. Most of the pack had been left in Portugal, in summer quarters, but half a dozen outrageously spoiled dogs came with the Colonel. “No, Leroy chatted to him.” Windham managed to convey that the American Major was bound to speak French, being a foreigner himself. Americans were strange, anyone was strange to Windham who did not have true English blood. “He hunts, you know.”

“Major Leroy, sir?”

“No, Sharpe. Delmas. Mind you, they hunt bloody queer in France. Packs of bloody poodles. I suppose they’re trying to copy us and just can’t get it right.”

“Probably, sir.”

Windham glanced at Sharpe to see if his leg was being pulled, but the Rifleman’s face was neutral. The Colonel courteously touched his hat. “Won’t keep you, Sharpe.” He turned to the Light Company. “Well done, you scoundrels! Hard marching, eh? Soon over!”

It was over at mid-day when the Battalion reached the hills directly across the river from Salamanca. A messenger had come from the army, ordering the South Essex to that spot while the rest of the army marched further east to the fords that would take them to the north bank. The French had left a garrison in the city that overlooked the long Roman bridge and the job of the South Essex was to make sure that none of the garrison tried to escape across the river. It promised to be an easy, restful afternoon. The garrison planned to stay; the guard on the bridge was nothing more than a formal gesture.

Sharpe had been to Salamanca four years before with Sir John Moore’s ill fated army. He had seen the city then in winter, under a cold sleet and an uncertain future, but he had never forgotten it. He stood now on the hill crest two hundred yards from the southern end of the Roman bridge and stared at the city over the water. The rest of the Battalion were behind him, out of sight of the French guns in the forts, and only the Light Company and Windham were with him. The Colonel had come to see the city.

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