Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

The Provosts turned round. They were the police force of the army, universally disliked, and they watched Hogan’s approach with silent truculence. Sergeant Harper, who had shouted, was still on the ground. He looked up at Hogan. “Would you be telling this scum to let me go, sir?”

Hogan felt an immense relief when he saw Patrick Harper. There was something intensely reassuring about his fellow Irishman, and Harper was so inseparable from Sharpe that Hogan felt a sudden, crazy hope that if Harper lived, then Sharpe must, too. He crouched beside the Sergeant who was rubbing his shoulder where the Provost had clubbed him. “I thought you were in the hospital.”

“So I was. I got the hell out.” Harper was angry. He spat on the ground. “I woke up this morning, sir, early, with a head like the very devil. I went to look for the Captain.”

Hogan wondered if Harper did not know yet. He wondered how the big Sergeant came to be arrested. The Provosts stirred sullenly and one suggested to the other that he go and find their own Captain. The man left. Hogan sighed. “I think he’s dead, Patrick.”

Harper shook his head stubbornly. “He’s not, sir.” The chains clinked as he held up a hand to silence Hogan. “The guard on the gate told me he was, he said that he’d been buried with the French.”

“That’s right.” Hogan had told the gate Sergeant at the Irish College. “I’m sorry, Patrick.”

Harper shook his head again. “He’s not there, sir.”

“What do you mean?”

“I looked. He’s not there.”

“You looked?” Hogan noticed for the first time that Harper’s trousers were stained with earth.

Harper stood up, towering over the other prisoners. “I slit up more than twenty shrouds, sir, right down to the ones that stank. He wasn’t there.” He shrugged. “I thought at the very least the man should have a proper burial.”

“You mean?” Hogan stopped. The hope fluttered in him, and he pushed it down. He turned to the Provost. “Set him free.”

“Can’t do that, sir. Regulations.”

Hogan was a small man, usually mild, but he could be roused to a wrath that was awesome. He released it on the Provost, threatened him with the same shackles, threatened him with punishment Battalions in the Fever Isles, and the Provost, wilting under the onslaught, knocked the bolts out of the manacles. Harper rubbed his wrists as the other Provost, with his Captain, came back. The Captain took one look at the freed prisoner, saluted Hogan, and launched into an explanation. “The prisoner was found this morning, sir, desecrating the dead…‘

“Quiet.” Hogan’s voice cracked with anger. He looked at Harper. “Where are your weapons?”

Harper jerked his head at the Provosts. “These bastards have them, sir.”

Hogan looked at the Captain. “Sergeant Harper’s weapons are to be delivered to me, Major Hogan, at Army Headquarters, within one hour. They are to be cleaned, polished, and oiled. Understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

Harper stepped on the foot of the man who had hit him with a musket. Hogan saw the man’s face flinch in agony, Harper leaned harder, then the Sergeant stepped away with a surprised look on his face. “Sorry.” He looked at Hogan. “Should we go and look for him, sir?”

Hogan had seen the lump and the blood on Harper’s head. He gestured at it. “How is it?”

“Bloody terrible, sir. Feels as if some bastard scraped my brains out. I’ll live.” Harper set off up the street.

Hogan caught up with him. “Don’t be too hopeful, Patrick.” He did not like saying it, but it had to be said. “He was shot, and the surgeons didn’t see him.” Hogan had to hurry to keep up with the huge Sergeant. “He’s probably buried with the British, Patrick.”

Harper shook his head. “He’s not buried at all, sir. He’s probably sitting up in bed screaming for his breakfast. He always did have a terrible tongue in his head in the morning.”

Hogan shook his head. “You didn’t hear me. They didn’t treat a British officer with a bullet wound.” He hated puncturing Harper’s hopes, yet still the Irish Sergeant seemed unmoved.

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