No rights infringement intended. M/F
Christmas Challenge By Jenny Jones. May God forgive me...

Sharpe's Tree

"Ears, Sir," nudged Harper as they settled snuggly together in the undergrowth. "Your ears," he repeated, nodding towards his Officer's shako, which had been slammed on in a hurry, having come a cropper with low lying branches again.

Sharpe's ears were sticking out rather awkwardly on either side of his battered shako, and Harper knew how sensitive Sharpe was about his ears. An accident of birth, a mishap with the threshing machine, the story kept changing. Only Harper, who had experience with such things, guessed that they might betray the true origins of the scrawny babe that had been found one night on Wimbledon Common.

Sharpe tried slamming his shako down again, but, from Harper's expression, he knew the offending ears were still sticking out, framed by untidy strands of straw coloured hair, so he scrunched up his weatherbeaten felt shako and shoved it in his pack. He shook his golden mane free, and received a far more appreciative smile from Harper. He slid his rifle forward, and they waited.

And waited. The evening star hung low in the sky, almost perching on the top of a small pine on the horizon. He remembered something Frederickson had said about trees, decorated trees.

"Harper," he nudged his dozing companion. "What day is it?"

Harper squinted at the horizon, as though he could define the calender in the stars. "December 24th, Sir."

"Christmas?" Sharpe asked.

"Christmas Eve," Harper answered warily, not wanting to provoke yet another thin gruel and foundling home story from Sharpe.

Sharpe hushed him, however, his keen ears picking up the soft sound of jingling in the night, coming closer, in their direction. Sharpe's mouth hardened into a grim line. French.

The jingling grew louder, now accompanied by rattles, clatters and the sound of boots stamping. Harper cocked his mighty Nock gun, but Sharpe gripped his hand with his own, the gesture reminding Harper of the ammunition they'd lost to the bandits in the hills. They only had one or two shots apiece, their weapons mostly for show.

Sharpe hunched forward, willing the French closer, closer, the blood lust in his eyes. Their white cross belts could been seen clearly in the moonlight now, moving, ghostly-white targets. Sharpe howled out from his cover, Chosen men screaming behind him. Harper braced himself and let lose with Nock. It went off like a cannon, the flames from it's seven barrels like the very mouth of hell, just for an instant.

The tiny, terrified group of French, those left standing at least, threw down their guns, begging for mercy as Sharpe laid into them.

"Sir," Harper plucked Sharpe free of a struggling Frenchman and set him on the ground. "They've surrendered."

Sharpe, breathing hard, blood up, nodded curtly.

They had the French gathered together around a straggly pine, Hagman trying to make a small fire from pine needles, Sharpe searching through every seam of every uniform, every corner of every pack with expert fingers. Harris had already found the brandy. The French officer was calling Sharpe every name under the sun, but as Sharpe didn't speak a word of French, it hardly mattered. A kick was as succinct an answer the man was going to get.

Sharpe crouched down over the fire, warming his hands, eyes alight. He nodded towards the French officer. "He looks like one of them Christmas trees, all done up in gold, don't he, Pat." Then a wicked idea flared in those green eyes.

Amid curses and struggles the enemy officer was stripped of every scrap of expensive braid, every bauble, every button. Young Perkins, slightly tipsy, drapped the golden thread over the near bare branches of the tiny pine tree, the thread catching the light of the fire.

Sharpe sat back, admiring the tree, warm brandy in his belly.

"Merry Christmas, Pat," he offered, passing him what was left of the brandy bottle.

Harper saluted him with the bottle, and their motley band in scavemged uniforms, weapons and ammunition. Land pirates, Hogan had called them. Pirates was right.

Sharpe let his long, lean body settle itself on the ground, staring up at the night sky above the tree, the stars glittering silver above the golden tree. "Merry Christmas," he repeated.

And a merry Christmas to you, too, you heathen creature, thought Harper with great affection. At least decorating the tree had distracted Sharpe from his annual tales of cold Christmases with no shoes and no food. He should make it a tradition, he thought, smiling benevolently at the tatty tree with it's tarnished trim.

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