“The doctors said it might happen.”
“The doctors said I would die.” He saw the sword in Harper’s hand. “What’s that?”
“Just an old sword, sir.” Harper tried to keep his voice matter of fact, but he could not hide his grin. He shrugged. “I thought you might be wanting it.”
“Show me.” Sharpe held out a hand and Harper saw how desperately thin his Captain’s wrist was. Harper reversed the sword, held it out, and Sharpe grasped the handle. Harper pulled the scabbard away, the sword was in Sharpe’s hand, and the weight pulled it down, almost to the floor, and Sharpe had to use all his feeble strength to bring the long, clumsy blade up again. It shone in the small light from the window. Sharpe’s eyes stayed on the blade and his face was all that Harper could want. The blade turned over, slowly, the arm horribly weak as it rehearsed the twist that the sword needed as it lunged into an enemy. Sharpe looked up at Harper. “You did it?”
“Aye, well, you know, sir. Not much to do, sir. Passed the time, so it did.”
Sharpe twisted the blade back and the light ran down the steel. “It’s beautiful.”
“Just the old ‘96 pattern, sir. Standard issue. Nothing special. I took the odd nick out the edge, sir. Would it be’true, sir, that we’re moving tomorrow? To higher circles, I hear?”
Sharpe nodded, but he was not listening to Harper’s words properly. He was looking at the blade, letting his gaze go up and down the steel, from the new point on the sword to the place where the steel buried itself into the reshaped guard. The weight was too much for him and it sank, slowly, until the tip rested on the rush matting. He looked up at Harper. “Thank you.”
“For nothing, sir. Thought you might need it.”
„I’ll kill the bastard with it.“ Sharpe grimaced with the effort, but the blade came up again. „I’ll slaughter the bastard.”
Patrick Harper grinned. Richard Sharpe was going to live.
Tuesday, July 21st to Thursday, July 23rd, 1812
Sometimes the river was silver, a sheen of pitted silver, and sometimes it was dark green like velvet. At dusk it could look like molten gold, heavy and slow, pouring itself richly towards the Roman bridge and then on towards its junction with the River Douro and then, the far off sea. Sometimes it was mirror smooth, so the far bank was perfectly seen upside down on its surface, and at other times it was grey and broken,r but Sharpe never tired of sitting in the pillared shelter that a previous Marques had built right on the water’s edge. It was a private place, entered only through one door, and when the door was shut and bolted, the sounds of the house and garden faded.
He exercised for hours in the shelter, strengthening his sword arm, and he walked further each day so that by the time they had been in the house six nights he could walk the mile to the city and back and the only pain was a dull, tugging ache. He ate prodigiously, wolfing down the beef that, as a true Englishman, he knew to be the only source of strength. Captain Lossow, of the King’s German Legion, contrived to send Sharpe a wooden crate that proved to be full of stone-bottled beer. A letter was nailed to the crate. It was very short. “The French could not kill you, so drink yourself to death. Your Friend. Lossow.” Sharpe could not imagine how Lossow had contrived to find a whole crate of beer in Spain, but he knew how generous was the gift and he was touched by it.
On the fifth day he fired Harper’s rifle, letting the butt kick into his shoulder, forcing his tired arms to hold the barrel steady, and on his tenth shot he smashed one of the empty stone bottles into shards and felt content. He was strengthening. He had written to Hogan on the first day without cruel pain and the Town Major’s office forwarded the reply and Hogan was delighted at Sharpe’s news. The rest of the letter was grim. It told of fruitless marching and counter-marching across the plains, of the army’s discontent because the French seemed to be outmanoeuvring the British, beating them without a battle being fought, and Hogan hinted that soon the army might be retreating on Salamanca.