Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

Curtis ignored him. He waved an expansive hand round the small, pretty shelter. “I know this place well. I used to be the Marques’s confessor and he was always kind to me. He let me use this for some of my observations.” He shifted himself so he was looking at Sharpe. “I watched last year’s comet from in here. Remarkable. Did you see it?”


“You missed something, you really did. The Marques was of the opinion that the comet affected the grape harvest, that it was responsible for the good vintage. I don’t understand that, but undoubtedly last year’s wine was excellent. Excellent.”

A great explosion of thunder saved Sharpe the necessity of replying. It echoed across the sky, grew and faded, and the rain seemed to seethe down with more force. Curtis tut-tutted. “I presume you’re waiting for La Marquesa.”

“You can presume what you like.”

“True.” Curtis nodded. “It concerns me, Mr. Sharpe. Her husband is a man I would call a friend. I’m a priest. You are, I know, a married man. I think I’m speaking to your conscience, Mr. Sharpe.”

Sharpe laughed. “You came out here, in this weather, to give me a bloody sermon?” He sat down on the curved bench that ran round the inner wall of the shelter. He was trapped here, while the rain lasted, but he was damned if he was going to let a priest start meddling with his soul. “Forget it, Father. It’s none of your business.”

“It’s God’s, my son.” Curtis spoke mildly. “La Marquesa doesn’t confess to me. She uses the Jesuits. They have such a complicated view of sin. I’m sure it must be very confusing. I have a very simple view of sin and I know that adultery is wrong.”

Sharpe spoke quietly, his head tilted back against the wall. “I don’t want to be offensive, Father, but you’re annoying me.”


Sharpe brought his head forward. “So I remember Leroux going to your room, I remember hearing that you fought against the English, and I know that the French have spies in this town, and it would take me about two minutes to tip you into that river and I wonder how many days it would be before they found you.”

Curtis stared at him. “You mean that, don’t you?”


“The simple solution, yes? The soldier’s way.” Curtis was mocking him now, his voice hard. “Whenever human beings don’t know what to do they call in the soldiers. Force ends everything, yes? That’s what they did with Christ, Mr. Sharpe, they called in the soldiers. They didn’t know what to do with him so they called on men like you and I don’t suppose they thought twice about what they were doing, they just banged in the nails. You’d have done that, wouldn’t you?”

Sharpe said nothing. He yawned. He looked at the quick ripples where the rain struck the river. The sky was black, the western horizon dark gold, and he wondered if La Marquesa would wait for the storm to end before her coach made its way to the house by the river.

Curtis looked behind him at the rugs and the cushions that La Marquesa had put into the river shelter. “What are you frightened of, Sharpe?”


“I’m serious.”

“So am I. I hate moths.”


Sharpe sighed. “Father, I do not wish to be offensive, I don’t really want to push you into the bloody river, but I do not want to sit here and be lectured about my soul. Understand?”

A thunderclap smashed the sky overhead, so sudden that Curtis jumped, and its lightning seared over the river, the smell of ozone sharp in the air, and the sound of the thunder seemed to roll westwards towards the city, bounce back, and then there was just the rain crashing on the water. Curtis looked at the river. “There’ll be a battle tomorrow.” Sharpe said nothing. Curtis spoke louder. “There’ll be a battle tomorrow, and you will win.”

“Tomorrow we’re running away from the French.” Sharpe’s voice was bored.

Curtis stood up. His cassock was black against the gloom outside. He stood as close to the river as he could without letting the rain fall on him. He still spoke towards the water, his back turned on Sharpe. “You English have an ancient belief that your great victories come on the day after a night of thunder.” The priest’s hair was white against the black clouds. “Tomorrow you will have your battle, your soldier’s solution, and you will win.” Thunder growled half-heartedly and the priest, to Sharpe, looked like some ancient magician who had conjured this storm from the deep. When the thunder sound had died Curtis looked at Sharpe. “The dead will be legion.”

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