Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe’s weapons were missing. The Rifle had been stolen in the hospital, the sword broken by Leroux. It took Harper three days, a bribe, but in the end a storekeeper with the Town Major opened up a small warehouse and rummaged through the racks. “Swords,” he muttered to himself, “swords. You can have this one.” He offered Harper a sabre.

“That’s bloody rubbish. It’s got bloody woodworm. I want a Heavy sword, not that bent rubbish.”

The Corporal storekeeper sniffed. He found another sword, this one straight. “Twenty pounds?”

“You want me to try it on you? I’ve paid already.”

The Corporal shrugged. “I have to account for this lot.”

“You poor wee man. And how do you account for the stuff you steal?” Harper went to the racks himself, raked through the weapons, and found a plain, sturdy, Heavy Cavalry blade. „I’ll take this one. Where are your rifles?“

“Rifles? You didn’t say nothing about any rifles.”

“Well I am now.” The huge Sergeant pushed past the storekeeper. “Well?”

The Corporal glanced at the open door. “More than my bloody job’s worth.”

“Your job’s worth cowdung. Now where are the rifles?”

The Corporal reluctantly opened a box. “That’s all we’ve got. Don’t get many.”

Harper picked one up. It was new, beautiful, the lock greased, but it would not do. “Are they all like this?”

“Yes.” The Corporal was nervous.

“You can keep it.” Harper put it back. He would have liked one for himself, let alone Sharpe, but these were the new rifles with the carbine bore, smaller than the old rifles, and he knew that they would never be able to get a reliable source of ammunition. The rifle would have to wait. He grinned at the storekeeper. “Now a scabbard.”

The man shook his head. “Scabbards is difficult.”

Harper pointed the blade at the storekeeper’s throat.

“You’ve got two dollars of mine. That says scabbards are easy. Now give.”

He gave. The sword was not like Sharpe’s old sword. This one had not been looked after, it was dull, but it was a Heavy Cavalry sword and Harper set to work on it. The first day he remade the sword’s guard. The guard was slim at the pommel and then it broadened so that it would cover a man’s fist and it ended in a broad circle that guarded against an enemy’s blade sliding down the sword and slicing into a cavalryman’s hand. It was a comfortable guard if a man spent his life in the saddle, but the heavy, steel circle cut into a man’s ribs if he wore the sword as Sharpe would wear it. It was too long a blade to hang comfortably at the waist. The slings of the scabbard would have to be shortened so that the handle and guard of the sword would lie at the bottom of Sharpe’s left rib cage. Harper borrowed a hacksaw, some files, and he worked on the guard. He cut the right hand side of the circle back, past the small holes that could be tasselled for display, right down to within an inch of the blade. He made an edge that was crude, mis-shapen, and ugly, but he filed it obsessively until the shape of the new guard was smooth and easy on the eye. Then he polished the steel until it looked as if it was fresh from the Birmingham factory of Woolley & Deakin.

The handle of the sword was tight on the blade’s tang, but the wooden grip was rough to the palm. Harper took off the backpiece and filed the grip, and then he varnished it with oil and beeswax until the handle was dark brown and shining.

On the second day he remade the blade. The back edge of the sword was straight and the point was made by curving the fore edge back to meet it. That was not the point Sharpe liked. The rifleman liked a blade with two edges, both sharp, and a point that was symmetrical. Harper raked through the workshops of the College and found the wheel the gardeners used to sharpen their scythes. He oiled the wheel, treadled it, and then put the blade onto the stone so that it rang, it shrieked, and the sparks flowed like live-fire from the steel. He worked the back edge, curving the sword’s last two inches until the fore and back edges were the same. He had made a balanced point. Then he polished the sword, holding the blade up to the light to make sure the stone marks were even. The steel gleamed.

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