Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

“What do you want?” A truculent Sergeant came from the gate lodge. “Who are you?”

„French officer, wounded. Where is he?“ Sharpe’s tone told the Sergeant he was speaking to an officer.

The Sergeant shrugged. “Surgeons are straight ahead, sir, across the yard. Officers’ wards upstairs. What does he look like?”

“Had his lights hanging out. On a stretcher.”

“Try the surgeons, sir.”

Sharpe glanced at the top cloister. It was in deep shadow, but he could see two or three bored British guards, muskets slung, and doubtless there were wounded officer prisoners in the shadows. He looked at Harper with his huge gun. “Try upstairs, Patrick. And be careful. Get one of those guards to help you.”

Harper grinned and hefted the huge gun. “I don’t think your man will try anything stupid.” He crossed to one of the curved staircases that led to the officers’ wards. Sharpe threaded his way through the wounded towards the sound of screams that indicated where the surgeons worked.

Awnings had been rigged over patches of the lawn to keep the sun from roasting the wounded. A constant trickle of men drew water from the well, ladling from the bucket that was suspended by an intricate iron cage. Sharpe zig-zagged, looking at the men on stretchers, searching the faces of men in the deeper shadow of the cloisters, and going to the unshaded patch of lawn where the first dead, failures from the scalpel or men who died before they could reach the blood-stained table, had been laid out. His instinct told him that Leroux was in this place, yet he could not be sure, and he half expected to find the wounded artillery officer lying in the courtyard. Sharpe could not find him and turned, instead, to the surgeons’ rooms.

Colonel Leroux waited on the upper cloister. He needed now only two things, a horse and a long plain cloak to hide the charnel house appearance of his uniform, and both were due to be waiting for him at three o’clock in the alley behind the Irish College. He wished he had asked for them earlier, but he had never suspected that the surrender negotiations would be cut short by the British, and now he peered through the stone pillars of the balustrade and recognised the tall figure of the dark-haired Rifle Officer. Sharpe had no jacket, yet still he was easily identified because of the long sword and the slung rifle. Leroux had heard a clock in the town strike the half hour, he guessed it was now ten minutes short of the hour, and he would have to risk that the horse and cloak had been brought early. So far, at least, things had worked well. It had been a nuisance to be trapped in the forts instead of being with one of his agents in the city, but the escape had been planned with meticulous care, and it had worked thus far. He had been one of the first to enter the hospital and the surgeon waiting in the courtyard had hardly glanced at him. The man had gestured upstairs because it was obvious that no surgeon could save the desperately wounded artillery officer. He could be left to die in the shade of the upper cloister where the officers’ wards waited. Leroux watched Sharpe go into the surgeons’ rooms and smiled to himself; he had a few moments.

He was uncomfortable. He had piled a dead man’s intestines on his stomach and had tucked the entrails into the waistband of the borrowed uniform so that the gleaming, wet, jellied mass would stay in place. He had splashed himself with gore, soaked his blond hair in blood until it was matted and stiff, and then put an unrecognisable lump of flesh over his left eye. He had burned patches of the uniform. The Kligenthal was beneath him, unsheathed, and he prayed that Sharpe would be delayed in the surgeons’ rooms. Every minute now was precious. Then he heard the friendly challenge from the sentry at the curved stair’s head. “Sarge, can I help you?”

Leroux heard the newcomer silence the sentry and his instinct told him that this was danger so he moaned, rolled onto his side, and let the guts slide off him. The flies protested. He dug with his hand and twitched the cold entrails free, then reached up and wiped his left eye. It seemed glued shut and he had to spit on his hand, rub again, and then he could see properly. It was time to move.

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