Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

Price panted in the heat. “I haven’t seen him, sir.”

Sharpe pointed at a separate group. “Who are they?”

“Wounded, sir.”

He looked at the wounded. He even made one man take off a dirty bandage from his head, and wished he had not. The man was terribly burned and he was not Leroux. Sharpe looked at the scene on the glacis. “How many prisoners?”

“Four hundred here, sir. At least.”

“Search them again!” They marched up the ranks, stopping at each man, and the French prisoners looked at them dully. Some were tall, and those were pushed out of the ranks into a separate group, but it was hopeless. Some had no teeth, others were the wrong age, some were similar but not Leroux.



“Find that officer who spoke French. Ask him to see me.”

The officer came and gladly helped. He asked prisoners if they knew of the tall Colonel Leroux or else of Captain Delmas, and most shrugged, but one or two volunteered help and said they remembered a Captain Delmas who had fought so well at Austerlitz, and one remembered a Leroux who had been in the town guard at Pau, and the sun smashed down, bounced off the broken stones, and the sweat trickled into Sharpe’s eyes, stinging them, and it was as if Leroux had vanished from the face of the earth.

“Sir?” Harper pointed across the ravine. “The little one’s surrendered.”

They crossed the ravine again and, now that the third fort had surrendered, the wounded who had been taken from the San Cayetano and the San Vincente were allowed up the trench. Sharpe wondered how many had died as they waited in the burning sun. The artillery officer whose guts had been laid open by a flying splinter still lived, his face with the bloody mess where there had been an eye rocked back and forth, and Sharpe saw Harper touch his crucifix as the Sergeant watched the stretcher being carried towards the waiting carts. There but for the grace of God, thought Sharpe, and then they climbed up the ravine and headed towards La Merced.

Leroux was not there. Leroux was in none of the forts and Sharpe and Harper walked the wide, burning wasteland again to the San Vincente and once again they searched the prisoners on the glacis. Leroux was not there. Pray as Sharpe might, he could not make one face fit the French Colonel. He looked at the French-speaking officer in frustration. “Someone must know!”

The Lieutenant Colonel was impatient. He wanted the prisoners moved, to release his men from guarding them in the afternoon heat, but Sharpe stubbornly went down the ranks again. He wiped the sweat from his eyes, searched the faces, but he knew it was no good. He nodded reluctantly to the Colonel. “I’m through, sir.”

He was not through. He searched the burning convent again, went down into the coolness of the huge cellar that had been the magazine, but there were no signs of the fugitive. It was Harper who finally admitted what Sharpe did not want to admit. “He’s not here, sir.”

“No.” But he would not give up. If Leroux had escaped, and for the life of him he could not see how, then La Marquesa was in danger. It might take the Frenchman days, or weeks, or just hours before he made his move and Sharpe thought of her body in that man’s hands and he hacked with his sword at an open cupboard as if it might conceal a false compartment. He let the rage subside. “Search the dead.” It was quite possible that Leroux was among the dead, but Sharpe suspected the tall, clever Colonel would not have exposed himself to the artillery fire. Yet Sharpe must search the corpses.

The dead stank. Some had been dead for two days, unburied in the heat, and Sharpe raked the bodies off the pile and, the nearer the bottom he reached, the more he knew that Leroux was not here. He went out again, onto the glacis, and stared at the other two forts. La Merced was empty, its garrison marching away into captivity, and only McGovern with his small picquet stood guard on the San Cayetano.. Sharpe looked at Harper’s squad. They were tired, worn out, and he gestured at them to sit down. He took off his jacket and gave it to Lieutenant Price. “I’m going for one more look at the San Cayetano.”

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