No rights infringement intended. M/F
The Sharpe Fan Fictions of The Mardy Bum
a work of fan-fiction by The Mardy Bum, 23rd October, 2006
He opened his eyes. He saw spindly, dry grass, felt the heat on his back, and realised he was lying out on his front. Everything seemed misty, or foggy, perhaps. He felt a stabbing pain in his head and decided it must be the worst headache hed ever felt. He groaned and lifted a hand to his head, rubbing. It felt wet.
He lifted his head on his chin, sniffing and smelling something burning. He looked around quickly, unsure. Patches of the dry grass were smoking, blackened, and he pushed himself to his knees, sitting back on his heels and looking around.
Where the buggerin hell is this place? he asked himself.
He looked around, seeing men dressed in red shouting and laughing between them. He watched them, confused, as they bent and rifled through the pockets of a dead body, dressed in blue. He rubbed his throbbing head again and looked around, finding these red men everywhere, and most of them similarly attending to blue-coated dead men. He leaned and looked behind him, finding more dead men. Some were in red and some were in blue, but the majority were in the same blue jackets with white fronts. He realised the fog was smoke from fires and who-knew-what-else. He felt a growing sense of unease.
Am I with them? He looked down hastily, making sure he wasnt wearing blue. Green? Im in green? He looked around quickly, noticing he couldnt see anyone else in green. He had a bad feeling.
He looked back down, this time at his hands, blackened and dirtied with some kind of powder. He followed his arms up, then put his hands to his chest, finding a crossbelt with a whistle and chain on it. He pulled the whistle free, looking at it curiously before tucking it in again. He heard a shout and followed the sound, looking to his left.
Sir! Oh sir, there you are! a large man shouted, apparently directly at him. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, but you gave me a fright when you werent with the Men, so you did, he continued, striding up to him. He was very tall, with short black hair, a green jacket, and a huge great seven-barrelled gun on his arm. He stopped in front of him, grinning. Are we going to collect souvenirs now? he asked eagerly. He just looked up at the big man, lost. Only you promised wed look for a wee something for little Patrick, so you did, he added with a large, proud grin.
He studied this large mans face for a long moment, thinking carefully. Do I know you? he asked him cautiously. The big man stared back at him, then grinned wider. Oh yes, you nearly had me there, so you did, sir, he laughed. Come on then, lets be getting on to the winnings, he said, putting a hand out to his shoulder. He flinched and pushed it off. The big man hesitated.
Are you with them red-coated men? he asked the large man carefully. Or the blue ones?
The big man stared, his grin fading to be replaced with a look of shock and fear. It was silent for a long moment. He watched the tall man and then wet dry lips, wondering just what could be upsetting him so much. The tall man seemed to shake himself and sniffed at him.
What? he asked him dangerously.
He looked around, hoping to find something large and blunt. Something told him he was good at doing that and using it to make a fast getaway. He saw another man walking up behind the tall, dark man. He was also dressed in green, but was quite short and scrawny in comparison.
Harps? the little one asked. The tall one turned and looked at him.
Taylor, find Harris and tell him to get his sorry arse over here right now, the tall man, who he assumed to be Harps, said. The other, little man, peered at the still-kneeling man, and then turned and hurried off. Harps watched him go, then looked back at the man on his knees, staring at him fearfully. Jesus wept, he whispered, putting his hands to his head and wiping them over his face repeatedly.
Still on his knees, the man in green just watched him, trying to figure out why he kept staring at him, his eyes darting from one of his to the other worriedly. He huffed and cleared his throat.
Ah, sir? the man asked him, more quietly. He looked back at him, then realised he was talking to him now.
Me? he asked carefully.
Aye, sir, you, sir, he said patiently. Youve got a wee bit of blood on your face, so you have. Im getting a friend to have a look at it, would that be alright with you? Harps asked carefully.
He looked at him, his eyes narrowing. Why? he asked cautiously. Harps appeared to sigh wearily.
Because sir, youre my commanding officer, and youre also my friend, so you are, he said sadly. You may not believe it now, but trust me.
He looked him up and down, his eyes still narrowed. So I dont remember me name. Thats a worry. Or in fact what Im doing here, and why were all dressed in colours different to everyone else. He looked around, noticed there were no dead men wearing green, and then back at the man. Looks like its a good thing, though. He seems to want to help me. Perhaps I should let him, might learn a few details. Like who I am. He thought for a long moment. He nodded.
Its Harper, sir, the big man said warmly.
Me, or you? he asked, aware perhaps he was giving something away, when perhaps it had been a habit not to. Never show weakness to an enemy. But is he my enemy? He dunt seem to be but something tells me Ive had enemies whove been friendly before, he realised. He huffed with indecision.
Aye sir, thats me. Patrick Harper, he said. Do you remember your name, sir? he asked. He pulled his feet out from underneath himself and stood slowly, brushing dirt and grass from his green uniform. He looked at the taller man.
You Irish? he asked suddenly, just realising.
Yes, sir. And you? Do you know where youre from, sir? Harper asked.
He thought about it. He put a hand to his head, finding hair in his fringe and pulling a clump forwards to try and see it clearly. It looked a decidedly light blond colour, nothing like this large mans black curls.
Dont know, he admitted. He let his hair drop through his fingers and looked back at Harper, feeling suddenly stupid and lost. He bit his lower lip, looked around nervously, Harper noticed.
If youre looking for the Colonel, sir, well see him later, dont you worry, he said.
Was there a fight here, then? he asked. I mean, I hope there was, or all these people He looked around, then noticed a few red-coated men lifting arms and waving at him. He didnt know what to do, so did nothing.
God save Ireland, Harper sighed, wiping his face over with his big hands. Yes, sir, there was an almighty battle here. Youre the Major, so you are, Im the Sergeant Major, and later well have to talk to the Colonel and tell him
Major? he interrupted. Like, in an army or summat? he asked. Harper stared at him.
Yes. Ah, right, he nodded, relieved, that explains the colours. He stopped and looked around uneasily. Dunt feel right, though, he mused, me taking orders from someone else. He thought about it for a long moment. No, dunt seem right at all, that, he said, then looked down at his left hand, currently looking for a pocket or something similarly useful to do. He looked back up at Harper, who was staring. Did I have summat He flexed his left hand, looking at it. He felt round his trousers but couldnt find a pocket, just a long chain with an empty scabbard on it. He thought about it, then looked around the ground where hed been lying. Ey look, do you think thats mine? he asked, spying a large sword. He crossed to it and picked it up. Bugger me, but its heavy, he said. Summat reassuring about that, he added with some satisfaction, finding the scabbard swinging by his left side and sliding the sword home. Fits an all, he said cheerfully. Thats better, he thought, feeling more secure knowing he had a huge weapon with him. He looked up as another man ran up and stopped by Harper.
Harps? he said breathlessly. Taylor said Mister Sharpe had lost his marbles, he rushed out. Harper just looked at him, and the man looked round him. Oh. Hello, sir, he said suddenly.
Youd best find this Mister Sharpe and get him sorted then, eh, he said helpfully. Course, happen its no business o mine, he shrugged. He hesitated, watching the new arrivals mouth drop open in shock. He sniffed. Or is it? he asked carefully. He looked at the man, taking in his curly ginger hair and small round glasses. He noticed his green jacket was only half-done up, and something prompted him to open his mouth. No buttons? he asked disapprovingly. The man stood to attention, clearing his throat.
Sorry sir, lost a few in taverns, the man admitted. He just looked back at him, confused. The new man looked at Harper, a patent look of disbelief on his face. Harper nodded back at him meaningfully.
Is that where were going now? he asked the two of them innocently. Think I could do wi a keg or two. How about you two? he asked cheerfully. I think Im alright wi these two. I have no idea why, but somehow I think Ill be alright if theyre around.
Er, well, perhaps Harper began, but he interrupted him.
Well come on then Murphy, and you, Ginger, he said, about to walk off.
Harper, the Irishman said quickly.
Harris, the new arrival said. He looked back at them.
Yeah, yeah, he said dismissively. Well come on then, he added, walking off. Harper and Harris just watched him go. After a few moments he realised he was walking in the wrong direction and veered right, carrying on back toward redcoats busily packing things onto small mules and their carts.
Harper looked at Harris. Were in the shite, so we are, he admitted.
Up to our eyeballs, Harps, Harris agreed.
Major! Major Sharpe! Will you stop there, man! Colonel Lawford shouted. He watched Sharpe simply ignore him, walking on past as if he hadnt a care in the world. Lawford had to admit he couldnt remember a time when hed looked so cheerful. He caught sight of Harper and Harris running after him and just watched, confused, as they grabbed his arms and dragged the Major to a stop.
He slid off his horse and strode over, stopping just behind Harper.
Sergeant Major! he called out, and Harper and Harris both stopped their hurried babbling and turned and looked at him.
Sir, Harper said, and Harris stood to attention. Lawford ignored them.
Richard! he admonished. When I call you, youll stop, my man!
Sharpe looked at him, as if suddenly aware that someone was talking. He put his finger to his chest.
Me? he asked innocently. Lawford fumed.
Look, dont you go playing the strutting little egotist just because you saw that lot off! Yes, I know it was six men to one, but still, Richard, you neednt be
Ah, sir, Harper said carefully, with just the right touch of obsequiousness. Lawford looked at him.
And dont you stick up for him! he countered.
Sir, hes a wee bit
Sergeant Major, stand down, he bit out. Harper closed his mouth. You, Lawford said, pointing his finger directly at Sharpe, will be in my tent in five minutes. Understand, Richard? he demanded.
Er yeah, alright, he shrugged helplessly. Lawford eyed him, then just tutted and walked away. The three of them watched him disappear. Harper turned finally and looked at Sharpe. Richard? Sharpe echoed. Is that me? Like He turned away, thinking as he walked. James Richard. No wait, dont think Im a James. Edward Richard? No, thats just mean. Me parents would have to have been complete
Sir? Harper said hurriedly, catching him up. Harris appeared at his opposite elbow.
What? he asked irritably. Harry! Yeah, that sounds good: Harry, he said to himself, but then frowned suddenly. No wait, Harrys are piss-heads, he stated, then looked instantly confused. Why did I say that?
Sir, your name is Richard Sharpe, sir, he said.
Sharp? As in, the pointy end? he asked dubiously.
Yes sir, as in the pointy end, Harper sighed. Sharpe seemed to think about it.
Bugger. Were hoping for a more heroic name, really, he said. And Im a Major? he asked curiously.
Yes, sir, he said.
So who were that pompous little prick? he asked.
Colonel Lawford, sir. Hes also your friend, sir, he said. Sharpe stopped him.
Him? Me friend? Bloody hell, he said, shaking his head and walking off. Harper and Harris followed him. I mean, you two, I can understand, he said to himself. Couple o normal blokes, you know. But him? Probably paid fer his commission and never did a days work. He stopped walking abruptly. Whats a commission? he asked innocently. Harris caught up with him.
Look, sir, I really think we should make up an excuse and not go to his tent in five minutes.
Look, Ginger, I appreciate yer idea, but he does seem to be in charge, even if he is a twat, he added.
Harris. I thought you said his name were Laughton?
Lawford, Harris said. Im Harris, he added. Look, sir
Put it like this, sir, Harper said quickly. Do you want to stand there and talk to that man, or get some drinks in? he asked with a knowing grin. Sharpe didnt even think.
Yer right. Lets go, he said, clapping the Irishman on the arm and walking round him. Harris looked at him.
What are you doing? If he doesnt go
And if he does? Harper countered. He cant ever remember his own name or rank, never mind ours, he hissed. Do you know whats going to happen if he has to talk about battle plans with Lawford this afternoon?
No, Harris admitted.
Neither do I. But itll go down in history as one of those Shite Afternoons, he said with trepidation.
Up there with the time he was arrested and hung?
Oh yes, Harper agreed.
So what do we do? he asked.
Get him what he wants a large couple of jars, he said.
And then some more until he falls over. That way hes no trouble to anyone, and we can keep him out of harms way. And you never know, he might wake up right as rain, Harper grinned.
We should be so lucky, Harris muttered, following the Irishman as he jogged to catch up with Sharpe.
Colonel Lawford, sir, the private said politely. Lawford looked up from his desk, which was currently swathed in reams of paper and maps. He huffed at the interruption.
An officer to see you, sir, the private said. Lawford nodded.
Yes, yes, tell him to get in here right now, he snapped. The private bowed out of the tent and Lawford began to roll up the maps quickly. He heard the tent flaps open and the unmistakeable sound of boots on the canvas and his anger returned. Look here, man, I dont see how you going around winning battles against the odds lets you off the basic order of things, do you see? he demanded angrily, looking up.
A robust-looking man in red looked back at him.
Well, good afternoon to you too, Colonel Lawford, he said guardedly. Lawford stared.
Oh. I do apologise, Im sure, he said quickly, still angry. I was expecting someone else, he added by way of explanation. The man smiled slightly.
I assumed as much, Colonel, he said tightly. However, I am here on business and would appreciate it if we could get started, he said. Lawford cleared his throat.
Of course, Colonel, he said, eyeing the uniform and epaulettes. The man nodded curtly.
My name is Lieutenant Colonel Morton, he said. I have been sent here by the General Wellesley to put your regiment in order, sir, he said smartly.
In order? Is there something amiss? he asked, confused.
There is, sir, your men, sir, he said tersely.
The South Essex is a fine regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Lawford, he allowed, as if that admission hurt, but you have more than just the South Essex here, and not all of them pull their weight, he added, walking to the chair in front of Lawfords desk and dropping his cocked hat into it. He put his hands behind his back, turning and walking round the tent slowly, stopping to look at the personal affects.
And who might that be? Lawford asked, although he already had a very good idea.
That bunch of miscreants in green, sir, he said loudly. Call themselves the Chosen Men, do they? Well, Ive been looking at the usefulness of such a motley crew, and have to say, theyre not really worth having here, are they? he asked, turning and looking at him.
Really? I though they gave us the advantage, sir, he said stiffly. Its rare that they dont turn the tide of a face-off, he pointed out. Why, just this morning they picked off half the French strength before our eyes, narrowing the odds from six men to one to just
And what if your regiment carried rifles instead of muskets, Colonel? he demanded, staring at him. What difference do you think that would make?
Well, its a grand idea, sir, but rifles take longer to load. Wed lose volleys hand over fist! he protested. The South Essex is proud to say they can manage nearly four rounds in one minute and thats just one man, he said loudly.
Yes, but thats no good if the target gets missed five times out of ten, is it? Morton responded quickly.
But we have a good system of laying down volleys, sir, he pointed out. We have numerous battles that attest to the
Ive seen the evidence, thank you Colonel, he said testily. Im here to judge whether we shouldnt give half the South Essex some rifles and proper training, and re-assign the Chosen Men to where theyd be put to good use, he said.
Re-assign? Lawford echoed.
And its time we moved that Major on too, hes not doing any good here, he said curtly.
The Major? But but he commanded the field this morning, handed me a victory I
Then its time you got off your arse and did it yourself, Colonel. Not to be indelicate, but we are a tad overstretched, and you having some jumped-up shoe-shiner doing your thinking and fighting for you while you sit in here all day does nothing for the state of the war, he snapped.
Now look here! Lawford snapped, enraged. Just remember we hold an equal rank, Mister Morton, and you cannot simply barge in here and take what you want! How dare you come in here and tell me how to run my regiment! How dare you step into my tent and insult me like some filthy private! I believe gentlemen should have manners, sir! If you really had read those reports, youd know that I command the field but give the Major free rein to accomplish a victory by any means necessary, something hes very good at!
Yes, suspiciously so, Morton interrupted. Could it be hes used to doing whatever he likes, and is lucky that it all works out in the end?
Could it be that you need some lessons in manners and leadership? Lawford shot back. The two men stared at each other, and there was a long moment of silence.
Theres something you should see, Morton said quietly. He put his hand inside his red jacket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. Lawford eyed it and his heart started to sink. Morton handed it to him slowly. Lawford opened it and read it. He swallowed, his last vestige of hope gone.
You will extend all help and services to Colonel Morton in his task. He must not be refused any order or request.
He read the names at the bottom. Gen. A. Wellesley. Maj. Nairn.
Bugger, he snapped to himself.
Yes, Morton said suavely, reaching out and taking the paper back again. So Ill be having a look around this camp, and the men bunked in the village, and divining just what good these green-coated ruffians actually do. I will, of course, call on you if I need any help. He turned and picked up his hat, tucking it under his arm. He turned and then looked Lawford up and down, snorting without mirth. Good day, he said curtly, ducking out of the tent.
Damn his eyes, Lawford hissed to himself. He turned and looked at the timepiece on his desk. And where is Sharpe, anyway?
I get the feeling were friends, you know, Sharpe said, starting on his third mug.
That we are, sir, Harper agreed.
So you shouldnt call me sir, he pointed out. Harris chuckled into his mug of ale.
Oh? And whys that, sir? Harper asked.
Well, that Colonel who you say is me friend from way back calls me Richard, he pointed out. So if were friends from way back, you should call me Richard too.
Er Be a wee bit difficult, sir, he admitted. See, the men are well, used to you being more for the formal, sir, he said.
Come again? Sharpe asked, tipping up the mug and making a good dent in a half-pint.
Well, you like a bit of order, sir. Like keeping a slight difference between you and the men, so you do. He looked at Harris, who was just grinning. You keep us in order with shouting, mostly, he shrugged.
Sharpes face twisted with abject confusion. And when Im happy with you lot? You know, like when weve won summat?
Well mostly the same, sir. You dont like to let us get complacent, sir, he said happily.
Bloody hell, I sound like a right mardy bugger, he huffed, his face a picture of disgust. Alright, if you say so. I dont know why, but I think I should trust you, he said thoughtfully.
Thank you, sir.
Except yer crap at getting the drinks in, he said, sitting up straight from the table and looking over toward the bar area of the tavern. He tipped a finger at the girl refilling ale mugs, then put up three fingers. Over here, love!
The girl looked up, saw him and nodded, hastily loading a tray with three mugs and carrying it over their table, noticing the three army lads sat behind it.
You are army boys? she asked with a huge grin. Sharpe upended the mug still in his hand, draining it effortlessly.
Apparently, he said, mirroring her grin. She pushed the tray over on the table, sliding onto the bench seat next to him and making sure she leaned on him.
Why green? she asked. He let his arm fall round her shoulder, leaning into her with a disarming smile, his green eyes sparkling with mischief.
So we cant be seen in the grass, he replied smoothly.
Really? she asked, looking round and finding the other two men just watching him, their mouths half-open in astonishment. She looked back at him, putting a warm hand to his face and deciding it was very agreeable. Perhaps I not ask this one for money, she heard herself think.
Absolutely, he said.
Tell me, she said, pulling his face in and kissing him.
Harper and Harris looked at each other. Harper shrugged, lost. Harris spread his hands, and they shared a long look of helplessness.
I can do better than that, love, Sharpe said, putting his hands to her sides and helping her get to her feet. Ill show you. He got up and she giggled, grabbing his elbow and dragging him toward the back door.
Sir! Harper said, a warning in his drone.
Ey, its alright is this army life, he grinned, clicking his tongue as he winked at the Irishman. They crossed the room and disappeared out the back door, the girl giggling all the way. Harper turned and looked at Harris.
His powder's not mixed right, Harris stated flatly. Harper picked up his new mug of ale and downed it in one go. Harris took a good pull from his mug.
Youre not wrong there. We could be in trouble.
So how do we get him to remember who is? Harris asked at length.
Youre asking me? Youre supposed to be the learned man, so you are! Harper pointed out indignantly. Harris sagged.
Oh. They sat and thought for a long few minutes, Harper pulling over Sharpes untouched ale and downing that, too. We could try just hitting him over the head really hard, Harris added quietly.
Oh yes, Im sure! Harper scoffed. And Ill stand back and watch him get up and brain you for your trouble, so I will!
You would, too, Harris said quietly. He looked back at Harper. Do you think its wise to let him go off and help himself, when hes not really himself? Harris asked.
Dont see why not. Hes not doing any harm, he shrugged. There was a scream and a shout from outside, and the two men looked at each other. They jumped to their feet and ran to the back door.
The Spanish waitress was plastered against the wall of the tavern, one hand to her mouth. Two men were struggling and fighting in the dirt, grunting and swearing at each other. They flew apart, the man in red landing on his back.
Harris hurried to the girl, taking her arm and pulling her safely further from the fighting men.
What happened? he cried. She looked at him and starting babbling in Spanish. Harris listened as best he could, nodding and trying to calm her down. Harper stepped round the men, rolling around in the mud caused by the rubbish dump out the back of a well-used pub. He crossed to Harris and the girl.
Whats she saying? he demanded. Harris looked at him.
Im not sure of all of it, sir, but it seems she and the Major were er enjoying themselves when the officer appeared and tried to er separate them. The Major told him to leave, and the man refused. Apparently, the man in red slapped him with a glove, he said tightly. Harper slapped his hands over his face, moaning all kinds of oaths.
They heard laughing and looked over. The man in red was out for the count, spread-eagled on his back in the mud. Sharpe was standing over him, bedraggled and breathing hard, but there was no denying the satisfaction on his face. He whistled through his teeth at Harper, lifting his fists in the air in triumph.
Thats telling the bastard! he cried cheerfully. He stepped back, wiping his mouth and looking down at his once-green uniform, now muddy.
Harper looked back at the girl. Miss, who is the man? he asked, pointing at the ground. She looked over, spat, then looked back at Harper.
Coronel del ejircito, she shrugged. Harris and Harper swore.
His name? Did he say his name? Harper pressed. She thought about it, then smiled over his shoulder as Sharpe appeared behind him.
Here now, get yer own, he said, shouldering Harper out of the way and leaning against the girl. She put her hands to his arms, grinning.
Sir, who was that? Harper demanded angrily.
Dont know. Some bloke as needs to learn some manners, he said off-hand, then kissed the girl with conviction. Harper grabbed his elbow, pulling him off-balance and separating him from the girl. Ey! Sharpe snapped angrily. Were supposed to be mates, but dont push it, he growled. Harper huffed.
What was his name, sir? Its really important! You could be shot for hitting him! he shouted. Sharpe stopped short, thinking about it.
Really? he swallowed. Er He did say his name, he said, running his tongue over his lip and trying to think. The girl ran her hand up his whistle chain and pulled on the open buttons of his tunic slowly. Ill er Ill think about it in a bit, he said, turning back toward her. Harris shouldered in between them and bundled the girl off to the left, saying something soothing in Spanish. Oi! Sharpe protested. Harper yanked on his arm and spun him round.
Sir? His name? he demanded.
Oh yeah, er He said he were a Colonel. Yeah, a Colonel, he said, looking over at Harris and the girl. Does he speak Spanish then? he asked.
Yes. His name? he pressed.
Oh, er Morley? Morris? Mor summat, Im sure of it, he nodded.
Morton, the girl called over.
Yeah! That were it: Morton, he said. Can I go now?
Sir, we have to get back to camp and work out what were going to do. We have to make sure this Morton doesnt shoot you for striking a superior officer! he hissed.
Could we do all that in half an hour? he asked hopefully. Harper huffed. Twenty minutes?
Sir, we really dont have time for
Fifteen minutes? Go on, just fifteen minutes? Sharpe asked, his eyes not unlike those of a sad and friendless puppy.
Sir, we can
Ta! he cried happily, clapping him on the shoulder and turning to go. Harper just let him walk off toward the girl, shaking his head.
Here, give over, Sharpe hissed, slapping the backside of the girl over his shoulder. She stopped wriggling but giggled and spouted something in Spanish, until he stopped at the flaps to his tent and deposited her on the ground. Now get in there, alright? he whispered.
I wait for you, she whispered, winking and lifting her skirts, swishing inside the tent flaps. Harper appeared, looking round.
Right sir. Ill get all of the Men to swear you were here all evening, sir, he said. I paid this wench here, shes promised to forget everything she saw. Shes going to back up your story that you were here an hour ago and never fought at the tavern. Got it? he whispered.
Got it, Sharpe nodded. Harper turned to go, but Sharpe caught his arm. Harper, he whispered hoarsely. He turned and looked at him. Well thanks. Im Look, Im not really sure whats going on, but but it looks like yer saving me arse here. I think there arent many people as would do that fer me. Thank you, he added. Harper grinned.
Anytime, sir. You just think of a way you can remember everything from before you woke up this afternoon, he replied. Sharpe nodded uncomfortably and released his arm. Harper turned and stalked off into the night, to create alibis from nothing.
Sharpe turned and ducked into his tent. The girl had already deposited every last bit of her clothing on the rough army blankets, and was squirming down under them comfortably. Sharpe hardly glanced at her but walked in, looking around slowly. He walked to the pack on the floor in the far corner, crouching down to open it and look through it. He found an expensive-looking telescope and pulled it out to look at it.
Whats this? he said to himself, turning it over in his hands. He smoothed his fingers over what looked like kinks in the metal that had been straightened and beaten out. He noticed a plaque on the right side and turned it over. In gratitude, A.W. September 23rd, 03. He turned it over, finding it heavy, and then suddenly a picture popped into his head.
Horses, mud, a cannon, a tall man with a big nose. He pushed him toward the cannon, the man staggered back and stayed under, bleeding from his head. Sharpe had a large, heavy sword. He swung it and half a dozen men attacked him at once. They had strange, silken uniforms, not like the red, blue or even green jackets hed seen recently.
He blinked and the scene was gone. He closed his eyes, thinking, trying to call it back. That was me, I know it was. Who was the man with the nose? He opened his eyes and looked at the telescope again. A.W. Who is A.W.? he asked himself. He sighed and then put it aside. He put his hand back in the bag.
Seqor Richard, the girl sang from the cot, watching him.
Give us a minute, Jacinda, lass, he said, not even looking up. He found a small metal flask and pulled it from the bag, running his fingers over it. It didnt seem to carry an inscription, but something about it felt familiar. A woman? A woman gave me this, he realised. If I could just remember who she was
He shook his head, putting his hands back in the pack and delving around, finding shirts rumpled and tossed in any which way. Jacinda sighed and wrapped the top blanket round her, getting up off the bed and walking over. She crouched next to him and watched him.
What are you doing? she asked lazily, picking up the telescope curiously. It was cold and she rubbed the metal, trying to warm it up.
Trying to remember who I am, he admitted miserably, taking the telescope from her and pulling it out for her. She grinned, taking it from him and putting it to her eye, waving it round till she saw him at the end, a huge green blur.
You are funny, Richard, she giggled. He looked at her.
Yeah well. How much did me friend pay you to say youd been here all evening? he asked curiously.
Too much. He like you very much, he even buy me drink! she said delightedly, closing the telescope and handing it back to him. He snorted with amusement.
Aye well, I get the feeling if I get caught, he will an all, he said to himself. He stopped and thought about it, then put the telescope and flask back in his pack. She put her hand on his shoulder, rubbing the material of his tunic.
This is dirty, she grumbled. You must take it off at once.
He looked at her. If you insist, he grinned.
Richard, I go, get food, someone said. He opened his eyes and saw long, thick dark hair framing a warm, smiling Spanish face.
Yeah alright, Teresa, he muttered, and the face moved out of his line of sight. He turned on his side and settled back down to sleep. He heard the tent flaps move and slap together again and got comfortable. He saw a womans face in his head and it made him jolt awake.
Teresa? Shes here?
He exploded off the cot, not even stopping to find clothes, and ran out of the tent and into the spindly grass, looking round wildly.
Teresa! he bellowed. Teresa! Dont go!
Sir? Harper called. Sharpe turned to find a group of men dressed in green, huddled round a fire, eating from tin cans.
Find her, Harper! he shouted, his face torn. Harper dropped his tin can and jumped to his feet, racing after Sharpe as he looked around wildly and tore off across the grass.
The big Irishman caught him up and grabbed his arm. Sir! Wait, sir! he shouted. Sharpe struggled but couldnt get free. Harper grabbed his other arm and hauled him round to look at him. Sir! Shes not Miss Teresa, sir! he shouted into his face.
Sharpe stopped struggling to be free and looked at him as if hed been slapped. The was a long silence. Shes not? he asked timidly. Harper shook his head, letting go of his arms slowly. Sharpe just stared at him. This Teresa Shes important, I know that. To me. Where is she? he demanded. Why have I got this girl in me tent if this Teresas so important? Tell me where she is! he pleaded.
Harper swallowed, looking at his feet. Shes not here, sir, he said quietly. Sharpe grabbed the lapel of his uniform jacket and yanked him closer to him.
Then where? I have to find her! he shouted. Harpers big hand closed on Sharpes, squeezing and pulling him off slowly.
Shes no longer with us, sir, he managed. Jesus sir, Im sorry, but she died, sir, he said bitterly. Do you remember? he asked.
Sharpe let his hand drop, stepping back one slowly. I remember her. She were vicious and fierce, like an animal He stopped as a picture of her stole into his head. She were everything I had. And and I never saw her enough. Never.
There was a long, awkward silence.
Mornin! Uniform int tub, is it sir? a thin voice trilled, and they turned to see Robinson nodding cheerfully at them as he walked past, carrying rifles. Sharpe stared at him, then looked down at himself and his regulation white shorts. Bloody good job its so cold this morning, or this could have been really embarrassing, he realised. He looked around suddenly, shivering and putting his hands to his bare arms in the frosty chill of the morning.
Summat funny, rifleman? he demanded harshly. Get yer arse over there and detail them Bakers fore I give you the kicking yer asking fer!
Robinson swallowed and ran off, the rifles banging about on his shoulder and in his hand. Sharpe turned and looked at Harper.
He is the troublesome one, int he? he asked gingerly. Harper grinned and nodded. Sharpe let his shoulders sag. Oh, bugger this. Im freezing, he said, and stalked off past Harper, back toward his tent slowly. Harper shook his head and turned, following him.
Sharpe walked into the tent and looked around. He walked to his pile of uniform and picked it up slowly, feeling the material. He looked the trousers over, finding them patched in places, and ran his fingers over the small repairs, trying to remember what might have caused them. He shook his head and then yanked the heavy cavalry trousers on. He picked up the shirt, smelt it suspiciously, then turned to his pack and pulled out the clean one hed found the night before. He shook it out and pulled it on over his head.
He tucked it into his trousers, buttoning them up with the ease of the practised, he noticed. He reached for the green jacket and noticed a huge rent that had been sewn up in the shoulder. He ran his fingers over it, then thought for a second. He let it go and put his right hand inside his shirt, sliding it up toward his left shoulder and finding a line of welted, healed skin.
Bloody hell! he said, surprised. Bet that hurt. He pulled his hand out but hesitated. It did hurt. Cold water cold water and a new sword, he remembered. And Harper gave it me. He concentrated, but nothing else seemed forthcoming.
He looked around, taking in his tent and wondering why he didnt have more personal effects he could use to help himself remember. He huffed, then just pulled on the tunic slowly. He pulled it straight, his hands going to the buttons automatically. He stopped himself and looked at his hands, curious.
I wonder, if Harper gave me one of them rifles, could I load and fire it without thinking? He pushed that thought away, shaking his head. I know Im in real trouble. Something tells me that Colonel int to know Im not sure who I am. Summat tells me Im going to get me arse kicked if I cant work out who I am, and quickly. He sighed, then walked to the tent flaps.
Harper? he shouted, thinking perhaps he needed his expertise in evading authority. He had a feeling the Irishman was good at it.
There he is, someone called loudly. Sharpe looked over and saw a tall, red-coated man pointing at him. Six Provost officers in their dark capes turned and looked at Sharpe. Arrest him! Colonel Morton snarled.
Well sir, can I just talk to him? Harper said desperately.
The man is under arrest, Sergeant! Of course you cant talk to him! Lawford shouted angrily. And for brawling with a Colonel, indeed! He deserves everything he gets!
But surely the Colonel must have been brawling as well then, Harper replied petulantly. Lawford stopped short and eyed him.
Look, I dont have time for this. I have a rider waiting for me outside with important news. He huffed. You are not permitted to enter his wagon, nor are you permitted to hand him anything, he said, then dropped his voice. However, if you were careful and happened to be standing between the wagon and the bushes, no-one would see you talk through the slits. Now be off with you, he hissed.
Yes sir! Bless you, sir, he grinned, turning and hurrying out of the tent. He bumped shoulders with a man hastily removing his shako, turning to apologise. The man simply ignored him in his haste, barrelling in. Harper slowed and stopped outside the tent flaps, listening.
Right then, what are we about? Lawford asked imperiously, inside the tent.
Sir, Lord Wellington sends his compliments, and commands you to muster all strength. You must be at the village of Rodilla by noon, the day after tomorrow. If not, the French forces there will be able to march on through the river Trampa and take the partisans on the other side. The General wants to make it clear we are to stop the French and leave the partisans in control, he rattled off as fast as he could. He stopped to take a breath, and Lawford nodded.
Understood, sir. Please, water your horse and see to your needs. You have orders for me? he asked.
Outside, Harper cast a wary eye at the guards to the tent flaps, then smiled genially and sauntered off.
Inside, the rider unbuttoned his jacket and felt inside for the papers. He handed them to Lawford. The Colonel unfolded them and read them quickly, nodding.
Very good, sir, I have all I need, thank you, he said, without looking up. The rider nodded and bowed out of the tent.
He walked up to the side of the prison wagon, standing on the grass not three feet from the bushes. He slid between the bushes and the side of the wagon.
Sir? Sir! Harper hissed at the wooden slats. Harper? Sharpe hissed back.
Jesus sir, its a right bloody mess were in, so it is, Harper hissed.
Try swapping places, it gets worse, Sharpe replied. Harper leaned on the side of the wagon, the guards on the opposite side to him, at the front lock-up, ignoring him admirably. At least you know who yer supposed to be and whos after you, he pointed out.
Look sir, theres going to be a court martial but theyve no evidence, he whispered.
Id swear on the Bible, sir, he replied.
Youd swear on a paper-weight if there were rum involved, Sharpe pointed out. He paused. Hey! I remembered
Thats as may be, sir, but theyve no witnesses, and only that Mortons word against yours, and those of the Chosen Men, and the girl, Jacinda, from your tent, sir.
There was a long silence, and Harper waited.
Well, if this all goes tits-up, thanks fer trying, Harper, Sharpe allowed quietly. I dont understand why yer putting yerself out fer me, but you are. I think if you didnt Id be in a lot more trouble.
Bloody hell, sir, if you lose your commission, I lose everything, Harper joked. My wife would kill me too, for letting you go down.
Then thank her an all, and I hope shes good-looking, Sharpe replied, a grin in his voice.
Once the trials over sir, youll have to get the Chosen Men back to you, sir. Weve got another fight coming, and we have to be at the river next to some village called Rodilla at noon, the day after tomorrow, he added.
Do I want to know how you found that out? Sharpe asked quietly.
Then youd best get back from there fore the guards see you, Sharpe hissed.
Oh dont worry sir, they wont be seeing anything, not with the half pint of rum theyve both just gratefully accepted, Harper grinned.
A half pint each? Bloody hell, I hope Im worth it, Sharpe laughed.
Oh sir, just seeing the look on that worthless English arses face will repay me in full, he hissed with conviction. You know hes here to break up the Chosen Men sir, and send you off to some colony? One with rifles, so I hear, he added.
Who? he asked, lost.
The Colonel you hit, sir, Harper reminded him, shaking his head. We cant have anyone knowing youre youre not sure of yourself, sir, understand? he whispered.
Only too well, Sharpe hissed.
Good. Now when Colonel Lawford comes, remember hes your friend since India, a long time ago, sir, he whispered. Hes probably going to represent you at the court martial. Just make sure he doesnt catch on to your memory loss, he said.
Easier said than done, Sharpe replied.
I know, sir, but youve got to try. And dont for Gods sake let that other bastard Colonel make you angry. We dont want you beating his lights out in front of witnesses, now do we? he asked.
Apparently not, Sharpe allowed.
Well, I have to pack up my family and get us ready to march, he added.
Thanks Harper, Sharpe said quietly.
Sure theres nothing to it, sir, Harper said. There was a long silence.
Yeah well. Lets just try and get through this court martial without smacking anyone, eh, he replied quietly.
Oh yes sir, good idea, sir, Harper grinned, tapping on the side of the wooden slat twice before turning and disappearing into the warming morning.
Sharpe heard a smart rapping at the wooden lock-up and pushed himself to sit up on the bench seat. The door opened and he watched Colonel Lawford walk in.
Well, well, well, he said coldly, looking Sharpe up and down. Im getting tired of telling you to behave, Richard, he said harshly.
I didnt do owt, sir, honest, Sharpe said, trying his best innocent expression. Lawford stared at him.
Honestly? he asked, walking over and sitting on the bench seat across from him, leaning over and resting his hand on his own knee. Can you honestly look me in the eye Richard, after all Ive ever done to help you, and tell me youve done nothing of which Id disapprove? he asked sternly.
Sharpe leaned forward, stared him straight in the eye, and nodded. Yes, sir.
Lawford searched his eyes for a long moment. Then he sat back. Well, thats just as well, because Im your advocate this afternoon, he said cheerfully. Sharpe let himself lean back against the side of the wagon comfortably.
Thank God fer that, he sighed. Lawford grinned.
I expect youre wondering what all this is about then, eh? he asked. Sharpe nodded.
Im a bit angry, to tell you the truth, he said earnestly, and Lawford nodded. I mean, Im marched in here, told to sit and then no buggerll tell me anything. Whats going on? he demanded.
It seems Colonel Morton has accused you of fighting with him in the town, he said. Now Richard, did you go into the town at all?
Here we go, he thought, I hope Im as good a liar as he is a fop. Aye I did, but I didnt stay. We found this nice lass and I brought her back, he shrugged.
The girl sat in my tent, crying? Lawford asked, surprised. Sharpe looked surprised too.
Well I wouldnt know. Ive been in here, he pointed out clearly.
Ah yes. Well that would explain it. Whats the name of this girl? he asked. Sharpe thought for a long second. Richard? Lawford prompted, his face dropping.
Er hang on, hang on, he said to himself.
Richard! he cried, aghast. You dont even know her name? he demanded.
Well, I were a bit pissed, you know how it is, he shrugged helplessly.
No, I thank the Lord every day, I most certainly do not know how it is! he countered. Honestly! And you an officer!
Well Tall girl, long hair, got an old knife scar right on her left-
Yes, well, that sounds like her, Lawford said quickly. And she was with you all evening? When did she leave? he asked.
Well she didnt, if shes in your tent, Sharpe said. He snapped his fingers suddenly and Lawford waited. Jacinda, he said, nodding. Her names Jacinda.
I see, Lawford allowed. And did anyone see you get back from the town? Can anyone give us a time? he asked hopefully.
Youd have to ask the men, sir. When we rolled up, the lot of em were talking over the tea boiling, he said.
All of them? Lawford beamed.
I think so, sir.
Lawford slapped his hands together, rubbing and grinning. Then weve got him, sir! he cried happily.
Got who, sir? Sharpe asked innocently.
Colonel Morton, Lawford grinned, then leaned closer and dropped his voice. He came here with orders to suss the lot of you out, Richard. I think he wants to see you sent to America, and Chosen Men scattered over the home isles, he added. Disgraceful man! Almost wish you had been the one that had given him that pulped face, he said resentfully. Sharpe raised his eyebrows at him.
Dunt seem like you, Bill, he guessed.
Oh I know! But hes treated me in the most indecent manner, ever since he arrived, he spat. Id like nothing more than for him to get a good hiding and have to crawl back to Wellington, telling him he was all wrong and his Lordship was right to keep the Chosen Men around and you on the strength of the South Essex, he snapped. Sharpe grinned.
Well then, wed best get our stories straight, ready fer the big battle, he said. Lawfords face fell.
You may be more right than you know, he allowed. Were to march north of here as soon as were done. We have to put a stop to some French troops currently trying to cross a river and grind some good partisans under. Well, cant have that, can we? he asked. Sharpes head suddenly filled with an image of Teresa, and a band of marauders. He remembered her smile, remembered her fearless devotion to her cause. Suddenly he missed her so badly he could taste it.
He cleared his throat. No sir, we cannot, he said clearly.
Mister Sharpe, you may sit, Colonel Lawford said loudly. They were sat in the Colonels tent, Sharpe in the middle on a rickety old wooden chair with a gammy rear left leg. Colonels Lawford and Morton were standing behind Lawfords desk, Morton looking as regal and dignified as possible with a red cheek and purple eye. We await one more officer, whom Colonel Morton has asked to join the proceedings, he said reluctantly.
Sharpe just nodded. Lawford and Morton sat, and Lawford opened his mouth to say something further. He noticed something at the tent flaps and stood again.
I say! Whats going on! he called. A private, one of the guards on duty, pushed into the tent.
Beggin your pardon, sir, he whined, this man wanted entrance, sir. Told im he couldnt come or nuffink, but he wouldnt listen, he protested. Lawford looked at the man and sighed.
Mister Harper? he said wearily.
Yes sir, sorry sir, he said politely. But you see, Im Mister Sharpes Sergeant Major, so I am, and I just thought maybe I could
You are not welcome here! Colonel Morton interrupted. This meeting is for senior officers only, and your kind is not conducive to smooth proceedings! he snapped. Harper just looked at him, then let his face melt and inclined his head slightly. But his eyes never left Mortons.
Manners, sir! crowed a voice from the tent flaps, and a man ducked in and stopped, dusting off his arms. How are you, Sergeant? Failing to keep him out of trouble, eh? Colonel Bane asked cheerfully. Harper grinned, turning and nodding to him respectfully.
Well, actually I am, sir, but others seem to have him mixed up with someone else, so they have, he said.
Ah. Im sure we can have it worked out in short order, dont you fret, he said, waving Harper aside. The big Irishman nodded to all three Colonels before disappearing from the tent, grinning.
You know that ruffian? Morton said curiously.
I do, sir, that I do, Bane said cheerfully, striding over to Sharpe. He had turned in his seat to see him, and made himself smile politely. Now then, whats to do, eh? Bane asked, dropping a heavy hand on Sharpes shoulder.
If I may speak, sir? Sharpe said respectfully, looking at Morton. He scoffed openly.
No you may not, sir! You may wait for the proceedings to begin, Morton cried indignantly. Bane looked at him before patting Sharpes shoulder and then walking toward the desk.
Dear me, Andrew, you really should take a deep breath and try to calm yourself, he said, shaking his head as he spied a chair and dropped himself into it. Now can I trouble you two to scurry this along a bit? Were supposed to be joining forces to go kick some Frogs arses, not ripping our own ranks apart, he said distastefully. Lawford smiled, then wiped it off.
Of course, sir, he said, then looked at Morton. Well sir, your case, I believe, he said genially. Morton nodded, then walked out from behind the desk and looked at Sharpe.
State your name, please, he said warily.
Major Richard Sharpe, sir, of the South Essex, he said politely.
Major Sharpe, you are charged with the assault of a superior officer namely, myself, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Morton, lately of the 43rd Regiment of Foot last evening. Do you understand the charges and what happens if you are found guilty? he smiled. Sharpe met his gaze calmly.
Its been explained to me by my advocate sir, thank you, he said pleasantly. Mortons eyes narrowed at his display of manners, but he simply took a deep breath and looked back at Bane.
This gentleman was in the town last night, sirs. I made my way into the town to seek out the Green Jackets and find out if they had any uses, other than making the local whores richer, he sniffed.
And I take it you didnt find any wench that would take you, is that why youre sore? Bane said, deadpan. Morton cleared his throat.
I was walking through the backyard of a tavern, sir, when I came across this officer, he said, flicking his disgusted gaze at Sharpe briefly, in flagrante with a local serving girl. He paused to walk past Sharpe and then backed away to look at him. When I challenged him to seek accommodation in which to conduct his lewd behaviour, he summoned me to take my leave in a shockingly base manner, he continued.
And what do you have to say about this, Sharpe? Bane asked, amused. Sharpe cleared his throat delicately.
I would venture to say sir, that whoever that man were as did that, really werent a gentleman at all. Im sorry Colonel Morton were subjected to such rude behaviour, but I cant say as I think itll be the last time, he said pleasantly.
Excuse me? Morton demanded angrily.
Being that were in a foreign country, sir, and many of the locals arent used to our ranks and that. They might have mistaken you fer a man of lower rank, he said apologetically. Bane grinned, then cleared his throat.
How dare you! Do you deny it was you, sir? Morton demanded.
I do, sir, Sharpe said cheerfully. I think I can attest to me whereabouts, if youd kindly tell me the time this happened? he said.
I can sir, and I will sir! Morton cried angrily, folding his arms over his chest. Approximately half the hour of ten, Mister Sharpe. What say you now, eh? He waited. Sharpe appeared to think about it, his eyes sliding up sideways to the ceiling of the tent, his tongue wetting his lower lip slowly.
Half ten? I dont carry a timepiece sir, but Im pretty sure I was er retired fer the night before ten, he said.
Retired for the night? Where, sir? he demanded.
In me tent, sir, he replied helpfully. Morton just stared at him, incredulous. Its the one wi the grass stains on the left flap, sir. Bastard things to get out, grass stains, he added helpfully. He cleared his throat. I mean, er, right difficult to remove, they are, he said apologetically.
Morton stared at him, then smiled. Dont think I dont know whats going on here, Major, he said suavely. Do you have anyone who can prove your claim? he asked.
I do, sir, he said cheerfully. Mortons face fell slightly.
Who? he demanded.
Jacinda, sir, he said. A lass we met earlier in the evening.
And you took her back to your tent, sometime before ten? Morton asked sceptically.
Aye, sir. She were, er interested in me uniform, sir, he said politely. Morton scoffed.
Oh really! I saw you, sir! I heard your voice insult me, I scuffled with you outside the tavern in the middle of the town! How dare you call me a liar, sir! he shouted.
I did no such thing, sir, Sharpe said calmly. It should be pretty dark after ten at night, I think, and what with it being outside a tavern, perhaps the drink had led you to believe that
I do not drink, sir! Morton roared. Sharpe ohed and nodded, unfazed.
Er, you dont? Lawford asked quietly. Bane turned round and looked across the desk at the seated Lawford. Lawford looked back at him. Its just that we have a statement from a private, sir, who says you had a rather distinct smell about you as you were carried from the place youd fallen, sir, he added reluctantly. Bane looked at Morton, then back at Lawford.
You mean he reeked of liquor? he said, then looked at Morton. Oh dear! Well, this wont do! he said. You accuse this man of assaulting you, in the dark, outside of a pub, and you smell like drink? And this man has a girl who says she was in the tent with him all at that time? You really should think about your facts, man! Bane sniffed. I dont appreciate people wasting my time!
Then then find this Jacinda, Morton said quickly. Well soon get to the heart of it!
That we will, sir, Bane said, getting up and going to the tent flaps. He stuck his head out and talked with the guard for a moment, then walked back inside. He crossed to his chair and sat. Anything else youd like cleared up before we let Mister Sharpe off that chair? he asked politely.
Yes sir if you were never at that tavern, and we never fought, sir, then why do you have a scratch on your face? he sneered. Sharpe put a hand to his face, feeling the slight line down his cheek. He smiled apologetically at Morton, his tongue running over his lip as he thought quickly.
Well sir, it may be indelicate to say in polite company, he managed, clearing his throat. Bane looked at him, nodded and then looked at Lawford, but he looked as mystified as Morton.
Explain. You do realise the depth of your troubles, sir?
I do, sir. It was Well, the local girls, sir? Theyre not as delicate as English lasses, he said carefully. Some of them get a bit carried away, he said, his face a picture of embarrassment for Lawfords benefit. Morton looked horrified.
Sir? the guard at the tent flaps called, and entered with a tall, buxom Spanish girl on his arm. Her face lit up as she spied Sharpes back, and she let go of the privates arm to walk over. She put her hand on Sharpes shoulder and patted it firmly.
Seqor Richard, she grinned, and he stood respectfully.
Miss Jacinda, he said, grinning. She ran her hand to his elbow but he lifted it off gently. Not now, lass. You have to sit down here and answer some questions, he said slowly. She nodded.
Ok, what questions? she asked. Sharpe looked over at Morton, who was staring at the girl as if hed never seen one before.
Sir? Sharpe prompted. Morton cleared his throat hurriedly, then waved at him dismissively.
Yes sir, you may stand. Miss Jacinda may sit, he said. Sharpe nodded to her, and she winked at him before sitting delicately. She tossed her long skirts about her long, shapely legs, getting comfortable. Sharpe walked over and stood by the tent wall, his hands behind his back. He slid his eyes over to Lawford, who nodded ever so slightly. Now then, Miss Jacinda, tell us what happened last night between you and this fellow, Morton said, waving a hand at Sharpe. She grinned.
Well, I in the tavern, I work, you see. This man, he come in and he is very very oh, like caballero. He buy drink for me, talk to me like real girl, I want to play with his shiny knobs, she said.
Excuse me? Morton put in.
The knobs, she said, pointing at Sharpe. They very small, very shiny, she went on, waving her hand up and down his jacket area.
Buttons, sir, Sharpe said helpfully. Morton turned and looked at him, then back at the girl.
And what time did you leave the tavern? he asked.
We go, maybe nine, she said. We walk is very far! she protested. We get to army place, lots of strong men, she smiled. Richard, he say I can sleep, but I no want to sleep, she said. Morton lifted his hands to stop her, trying to interrupt. How can any woman sleep in his tent? she rattled on, Morton waving his hands now, He is army boy, is smell like like nalgas del burro, she said wrinkling her nose. Morton lifted his eyebrows. So I tell him, take off the smelly green, I wash it, she said reasonably, shrugging and lifting her hands. I do wrong? she asked innocently.
Morton just stared at her, unable to make his mouth work. He collected himself and cleared his throat, fingering his collar slightly.
And madam, assuming you did arrive at his tent sometime before ten oclock, what time did you leave it? he asked.
I leave for finding breakfast, she said indignantly. He sleeping, but I hungry, she shrugged. If you cogida like the conejos all night, you need good, strong food, she stated seriously. Morton thought for a second, then paled and turned to look at Bane. Sharpe put his hand to his eyes and looked at his feet, shaking his head.
Did anyone see you enter his tent, miss? Bane asked, when Morton just stared at the tent wall, composing himself.
Si the green men, they see me. They very nice, they whistle and wave to me, so friendly! she smiled brightly.
Green men? Bane asked. What green men? he asked, glancing at Lawford as Morton turned around to look at her again.
They like him, she said, waving a hand at Sharpe casually, they wear the green and have the big guns.
Chosen Men? Bane asked out loud, deliberately.
They have the tea, the singing songs, she nodded helpfully. Bane turned and looked at Sharpe, who was fighting to keep a straight face.
Right well, Ive heard enough. This is a monkey business, Colonel Morton, a right monkey business, and Ill have no more of my time wasted, thank you, he said. He stood, but Morton crossed to him quickly.
But sir! We havent even checked with the privates! he protested.
Colonel Morton, are you accusing this lovely creature of lying? Bane asked genially. Or Mister Sharpe, perhaps? he asked.
That is yet to be determined, Morton snapped. Bane stared at him with venom.
Fine! He huffed and stalked to the tent flaps. Grab the first man you see wearing a riflemans jacket, get him in here as quickly as possible, he snapped at one of the tent guards. He nodded and dashed off. Bane walked back in and sat in his chair. These green men, madam, he said politely, how many did you see?
I not count, she shrugged. Many. Drinking the tea and cheering at Seqor Richard. They very happy he is back early to his tent, yes? she asked, then turned and looked over at Sharpe.
Couldnt say, miss, he said helpfully. She grinned at him meaningfully, and Bane cleared his throat.
Yes, well, he said, then looked at Morton. You do realise were wasting the Kings time here, sir, he said icily. Im completely satisfied that Mister Sharpe had nothing to do with this. In fact, Im wondering why youre pursuing him so relentlessly when you dont seem to have any evidence, he said slowly. Morton lifted his chin and stared at Bane.
I assure you, sir, that Mister Sharpe is far from innocent in a great many areas, he added. Bane just snorted without mirth, waiting. Lawford got up and walked round his desk, looking at Jacinda.
My dear, had you met Mister Sharpe before last night? he asked curiously.
No, she said, puzzled.
Hmm. And yet you agreed to go back to his army encampment. Were you not worried he would in some way trick you? Out of money, or anything else? he asked carefully.
Him? she asked, looking over at him. I think no. He is too nice. When we walk and I cold, he let me wear the green chaqueta, she said, seemingly well pleased. In his tent, he let me see his thing, is very nice, she added.
Excuse me? Morton asked indignantly.
Is small, like like hands, she said, pressing her hands together in a circle to demonstrate, holding them up to Morton so he could see the radius. Is cold, I rub it to make warm before he put it ah, let me hold it, she said, thinking of words.
Madam, please! Morton interrupted.
Is very useful! she interrupted, Can make it very long if you pull it.
Telescope, sir, Sharpe offered slowly from behind his hand, currently rubbing innocuously at his mouth to keep himself from laughing. Morton thought about it.
Oh, I see, er well yes, of course, he babbled. Jacinda grinned. The guard re-appeared at the tent flaps, looking in.
Rifleman to see you, sir, he said. Bane stood.
Thank you, corporal, he said, nodding. The guard disappeared and in walked a green jacketed young man. Sharpe smiled. Name and rank, young man, Bane boomed.
Harris, sir. Rifleman, he added. Bane nodded.
Do you know this man, rifleman? he asked, waving a hand in Sharpes direction. Harris looked at him quickly.
I do, sir. Major Sharpe, sir, he added. Bane nodded.
And did you see Major Sharpe return to his tent last night, rifleman? he asked.
I did, sir, he nodded stiffly.
And what time was that, please? Bane asked.
Cant be sure, sir, I seem to have misplaced my timepiece of late, he said politely. Bane smiled, then wiped it off before Morton could see it.
Could you venture a guess, rifleman? he asked.
My best guess would be before a quarter to ten, sir, he said.
And how could you know that if you had no timepiece! Morton crowed angrily.
Mrs Harper, sir, she remarked on the time when she was putting her little son to bed, sir, he said pleasantly.
Mrs Harper? Morton demanded. The wife of the Sergeant Major? And you trust that hussy to tell the time, much less have a watch?
Colonel Morton, you will not talk about a lady in such a manner! Lawford shouted, slapping his hand against the desk. Morton turned to him and shot back.
Gentlemen! Bane called over the resulting argument, I think we have enough evidence to pronounce Mister Sharpe innocent of all charges, and get the Hell out of this tent and onto something worthwhile, eh? This is a grievous waste of my time, and we have to be off to paste some Frenchies, so come on, be off with you, he said. He looked at Lawford. Can we pass judgement now? he asked impatiently. Lawford nodded, pulling his red jacket straight.
I concur, Colonel, he said seriously. Bane nodded.
Right then, two out of three aint bad. Were done, he said, nodding to Morton and then looking at Harris. Dismissed, rifleman, he said. Harris nodded and fled from the tent. Bane turned his attention on Jacinda. My dear, you are free to go. Thank you very much for your help, he said suavely, putting his hand out. She took it and stood slowly, nodding to him.
Thank you, sir, she said and he kissed her hand. She giggled but as soon as he released her hand she turned her attention to the officer in green behind them. Morton turned on him too.
You! he spat. Dont think this is over! he added.
Im sorry, sir, I thought it were just settled as such? he asked, as Jacinda put her arm out and looped hers under his.
You you you lying, conniving cur! he spat. Sharpe raised his eyebrows, nodded to Lawford and Bane, and then looked at Jacinda.
This mans manners are shocking, lass. Let me see you out, he said politely, walking off. Jacinda grinned and bounced along at his side, and they quickly disappeared out through the tent flaps.
Morton turned on Lawford. You! You somehow engineered this! he accused, seething. Lawford looked at him.
You didnt even let me defend my own man, Morton, I fail to see how I could have helped in any way, he said scathingly. Morton opened his mouth. It was you who called for the girl, dont forget.
Ah yes! And how much was she paid to lie? he demanded. Lawford looked at him.
You sir, are accusing a fellow officer of bribery and accessory to perjury! Choose your next accusation carefully, or I shall press my own charges! he shouted fiercely. Morton jumped back one step, looking at him. Now please do me the indescribable honour of leaving my tent so that it may struck and we may advance on some real enemy!
Morton seethed, tossed him one final glare, and turned on his heel, marching out of the tent. Bane shook his head, then looked at Lawford.
I say, whats got him in such a frightful state? he asked conversationally. Lawford sighed, walking to his chair and dropping into it.
He somehow convinced Wellington to let him come out here and try to disband the Chosen Men, and get Major Sharpe re-assigned to some American rifle outfit, he sighed, wiping a hand over his face. Bane tutted.
Well, lets hope he fails miserably, what? he said, and Lawford looked up at him. I think its fair to say you could rely on my help, should such a need arise, he said airily, winking at him before picking up his cocked hat and setting it on his head. He turned and was out of the tent before Lawford could put a sentence out.
He huffed and sat back in his chair. He thought for a long minute, then leaned back against the tent wall behind him.
Thats it, Sergeant, he said casually. All done. Is there something else you need to overhear?
Oh! Er thank ye sir, no sir, Harper replied from the other side of the canvas, surprised.
Then get yourself ready to march, Sergeant, and make sure Mister Sharpes hands are freed of local matters too, he said.
Oh yes sir, that I will sir, Harper grinned, and hurried off. Lawford smiled, wiped a hand over his face, and sighed.
Right, get that struck, Sharpe said, turning away from riflemen Brown and Moore, his green tunic in his hand. They nodded and turned to his tent, starting to dismantle it like lightning.
Sharpe! Mister Sharpe, sir! shouted a voice. He turned and spotted Colonel Bane advancing on him through the mess and noise of one hundred and twenty men getting ready to march.
Colonel, sir, he said cheerfully, holding his hand out. Colonel Bane shook it gratefully.
Well, well, well, didnt expect this when I got up this morning, I dont mind telling you! he boomed. How are you, young man? he grinned.
Surviving, sir, he admitted with a grin. Bane let their hands drop.
Well glad to hear it, man, he laughed. Ronnie and Emily asked after you, thought Id pass along their good wishes, he added.
Thank you, sir. How are they? he asked, hoping he had parted with the aforementioned girls on good terms.
Very well, Richard, very well, due in no small thanks to you, I should say. Emily is quite the little self-assertive hero these days, he winked, and Sharpe nodded. Although its hard to get her to stop dipping those loathsome biscuits in her tea.
Oh, well, er give it time, sir, he allowed.
Yes. Well, that Mortons looking to kick you in the arse, Richard. What on Earth did you do? he asked, as they turned and walked toward the lines of soldiers tents hastily being dismantled.
Absolutely nothing, sir, he said innocently. I think he had me mixed up with someone else.
Oh yes, so I heard, he grinned. Lucky that girl was willing to tell all, eh? he chuckled.
Thats the Spanish girls for you, sir, never pull any punches, them, he said ruefully, and Bane laughed.
Yes well. Im about to lead the 54th, sir, or whats left of us. Lawford tells me were meeting up at some river, going to do a little Frog-pasting and then hand it over to some locals. Is that about right? he asked.
Thats all I know, sir, he said truthfully, nodding.
Well good. Its good to know weve got three of us that can handle an army, eh? he boomed, clapping him on the shoulder. Have a good march then, and Ill see you at the match, he chuckled, and Sharpe nodded to him. They parted, Bane heading off toward his own quickly de-camping forces.
Sir! someone called, and Sharpe realised he should turn at that hail. He did and stopped, watching the Irishman run up to him. There you are, sir. Colonel Lawfords looking for you, sir, says he has orders, so he does, he said. Sharpe looked at him, then around to see how many people would hear their conversation, and found no-one.
So I should go and see what they are, right? he asked quietly.
That you should, sir, he said. Ill have to come with ye, of course, he said, and Sharpe grinned. Just remember youre supposed to be in charge of the light company, sir. Lawford normally lets you do what you want.
Why would he do that if hes the ranking officer? Sharpe asked quietly.
Cos you normally win your campaigns, sir, Harper grinned. He knows better than to try to fix something that isnt broken, so he does.
Right, Sharpe said, and they turned and walked toward Lawfords tent.
Just remember, sir, this Mortons going to hound you till he finds a way to get us split up. We have to stop the bastard before he finds out how to do it, Harper said fervently. Sharpe put a hand out across Harper and stopped them.
This green jacket thing is important to you, int it? he asked curiously. Harper sighed.
Oh sir, he heaved. If you could only hear yourself. I mean, if you were yourself, he added helplessly. Sharpe looked at him, his face a picture of apology. This mans going to try and break up the Green Jackets, and we cant have that. Lawford may have no choice but to do as the man says, seeing as hes on orders from Nosy himself, but
Nosy! Sharpe hissed suddenly. Tall man, big nose? Gave me the telescope? he asked quickly. Harper nodded.
Aye sir, thats the one, he said, puzzled. Sharpe nodded.
And hes important, is he? he asked. Harper looked at him just looked.
He runs most of the British Army, sir, he said quietly. Sharpe looked at him, but Harper could see his eyes glazing over as he thought about something.
So That were him. I stopped him from getting chopped into little pieces, and he gave me a telescope? he asked himself. Couldnt he have stretched to a purse? he tutted. Harper smiled.
He gave you a commission, sir, he said happily. Made you an Ensign, so he did. Set you on the road to where you are now.
Sharpe looked at him. Great! Same shit gets dropped on you, just from higher up, eh? he tutted. Harper grinned.
Put it this way, sir, if he hadnt, youd probably be the oldest private in your Kings army, he grinned.
Or dead, Sharpe said philosophically. He shook his head. So What am I doing?
Harper sighed, clapping his hand to his shoulder. Look, just bury this Morton arse, and well find a way to get you back to your old self, so we will, he said reassuringly.
I think Im going to enjoy finding a way to give that little shit a kicking, Sharpe said deviously. Hes a right arrogant twat.
That he is, sir, Harper grinned, and they turned and walked on to Lawfords tent. Sharpe ducked in but Harper hung around outside.
You are not a field officer, sir! How dare you impugn
Sharpe stopped just inside the tent flaps, clearing his throat. Lawford and Morton stopped mid-argument, turning and looking at him.
Im sorry, sir, I didnt want to interrupt owt, he said politely.
The word is anything! Morton snapped at him. And you call yourself a Major? You peasant!
Morton! Lawford cried angrily. He looked at Sharpe, who was looking Morton over with the kind of intense scrutiny hed give a joint of meat before finding the best place to start carving. Lawford looked back at Morton, then back at Sharpe, and hesitated. There was a long silence, and then he smiled tightly.
Major Sharpe, I have orders for you, he said haughtily. Sharpe looked at him.
Colonel Morton here has requested that he replace you as commander of the South Essex. He doubts your ability to lead, he said mildly. Sharpe turned a look on Morton that would have set fire to the canvas if hed ducked. So Colonel Morton is to command the South Essex for us, to show us how its done, you understand, he said pleasantly. Sharpes eyes took on Lawfords, who couldnt hope to stand against them. He flicked his gaze down at his desk quickly to avoid the look that was accusing him of betrayal.
And when he mires us in the shit, sir, can I do whatever it takes to get us out? Sharpe said dangerously.
Absolutely, Major, Lawford said, relieved.
Now look here Morton began, but Lawford interrupted.
You may command the Chosen Men, sir. I would like you to take point and come up with one of your usual cunning plans for shattering the order and discipline of the French ranks, allowing Colonel Morton here the chance to bugger it all up. Then we can simply step round him, pick up the pieces, and get on with business. At least that way we can say to Lord Wellington that we tried, he said.
How dare you! Morton shouted at him. Lawford fixed him with a stare.
Im the ranking field Colonel here, Mister Morton. And you have never led a battle. We will indulge your little fantasy, but not at the cost of victory or the lives of real soldiers. Good day, he said, nodding and turning away. Morton seethed.
Youll both be struck off by Horse Guards for this! he snapped, turning and marching toward the tent flaps. Sharpe stepped neatly out of the way, but his trailing foot snarled up in Mortons flashing boots. He stumbled through the tent flaps and onto his face in the grass outside.
Richard, please, Lawford said wearily. Sharpe sniffed, hiding a childish smile.
Accident, sir, he said innocently. Lawford just looked at him. So Im to march under him, am I? he asked seriously. Lawford nodded.
Just so, Richard. Carry out every order he gives you he might turn out to be a good field Colonel, after all but remember take no orders that stop you from leading your Green Jackets. Theyre under your direct control, and are not part of the South Essex advancement, he said.
Sir, he said, his eyes still communicating admirably just what he thought of the whole plan. He nodded and turned to go. Lawford turned to the two men walking in through the tent flaps.
There you are, he said to the two Lieutenants, get all my things packed and this thing down sharpish, he said. We have a river to get to.
So, me and Harper didnt get on? Sharpe asked, as if trying to picture it. Harris nodded.
Got off on the wrong foot, so to speak, he said nervously. Look, sir, maybe we should concentrate on what you do know. No-one can tell you everything you knew, the best way is for you to get your memories back yourself, he said.
No, really? Sharpe said sarcastically. Alright, alright, he said, noticing Harris slight frown. He sniffed.
What do you remember of the army, sir? he asked carefully.
Pretty much nothing, he said miserably. That Jacinda said Ive got really harsh-looking scars over me back, but I cant remember as how they got there, he said.
Im sure you will, sir, Harris said darkly. Most flogged soldiers remember for the rest of their lives, or so Im told.
Have you ever been flogged? Sharpe asked curiously.
Ive had the best fortune in avoiding that particular punishment, sir, he allowed. But as I remember, you hadnt actually done anything. Well, that was what you said, he stressed, with a small smile. Sharpe snorted with amusement.
But everyone says that, am I right? he asked.
Yes, sir, Harris said.
They continued walking, the Green Jackets strung out in a line behind them, Harper at the rear with his huge volley gun. They were picking their way over the rise in the hills, watching for enemy advances. And rabbits.
The South Essex and the 54th were marching smartly some half-mile away, on the straight and even road made by thousands of other troops having done the same. The sun shone brightly but it was curiously cool, a fresh breeze preventing the men from sweating too much. Even so, when the light began to fade, it was a grateful Sharpe that ordered the men to halt and make camp.
Do we not have tents? he asked Harper quietly.
Oh, no sir, not on a march like this, sir. The Essex lads carry them for us, we just sleep under the stars, so we do, he smiled.
And if it rains? he asked.
We get wet, Harper shrugged. Sharpe looked up at the clear night sky, shivering in the sudden chill.
Or freeze, he muttered.
Oh, sure this is nothing, sir, Harper said off-hand. Weve slept in snow before, he shrugged, turning at the sound of Brown and Taylor. Right then, you two are on tea duty, get a wiggle on, he said cheerfully.
Yes sir, they chorused eagerly, and disappeared over the hillside to find something worth burning. Sharpe watched them go.
So is someone going to watch while the others sleep? Sharpe asked.
That they are, sir, but not you, he said confidently. Sharpe looked at him.
Well, normally you take the first watch, sir, on account of -. Well, you just like to take the first watch of an evening, he said, not looking at him.
Why? he asked him directly.
Couldnt say, sir, he muttered, making sure he was turned away from him.
Harper, he said quietly. The Irishman stopped and waited. If theres one thing Ive learnt about you in the last two days, its that you love to tell a story. So go on, tell, he said carefully. Harper turned around and looked at him.
You once said, sir, that Well, the less you slept, the less you remembered. About people youd lost, sir, he said awkwardly.
People? he prompted, then ohed. You mean that woman, he said.
Aye sir, and other people, he said.
Well sir, Im sure it wouldnt do for me to tell you this, you should be remembering it by yourself, he said wretchedly. Sharpe studied his face in the rapidly failing light.
Alright then. Go and sort out a watch, he said quietly. Harper nodded.
Thank ye, sir, he said, turning, about to make a very quick exit. He stopped suddenly, turning back to him. Sir? he said brightly. Sharpe looked at him.
Well, how about a nice hot cup of tea, sir? he grinned. Sharpe took in his expression, the sudden eagerness, and something told him he was in for something outside of the Kings regulations. He smiled.
Aye, go on then, he said.
He woke with a muggy head, not at all sure where he was. He opened his eyes, rubbing at them, wishing his head didnt feel like last weeks pigs-bladder football. He groaned, then put his hands out to sit up.
He found himself wrapped up in a garishly striped thick woollen blanket, four feet from a dead fire and surrounded by men in green, similarly waking.
Bloody hell, he hissed, wiping his hands over his face. He spotted Robinson and winced. Ey, he called, and Robinson looked over cheerfully. Did we drink last night? he asked.
Not at all, sir, Robinson said smartly. He rolled out of his blanket with the agility of an ape and began packing his bedclothes away. Sharpe just rubbed his head with both hands. Someone placed a hand on his shoulder and he looked up to find Harper smiling at him.
Are you feeling better now, sir? he asked hopefully.
I feel like shit, he countered. If I didnt know better, Id say youd dumped some of that Spanish crap in that tea we had last -. He stopped abruptly, then looked around quickly. He looked down at his hands, surprised, turning them over quickly. He slapped them to his chest, patting at his green tunic as if afraid it wasnt real.
Well, I might have dropped a few leaves in, sir, Harper said slyly. Sharpe looked up at him.
I remember! he cried, surprised. I remember me!
Thats good sir, Harper grinned with relief. Do you remember what were about, sir? he asked.
Bugger me, Pat, Sharpe said, standing so quickly Harper jumped backwards slightly, weve got a lot on.
Dont I know it, he said. I think we should
Robinson, round em up, Sharpe interrupted, oblivious. Pat, get em on the road sharpish. Were supposed to be at some river by noon.
Yes sir, Harper grinned, recognising the commanding tone and tacit belief. And when we get to the river, sir? And Colonel Morton takes charge, sir? he added mischievously.
Ill bloody well break him in half, Sharpe growled.
Then my work here is done, so it is, Harper said cheerfully, turning and clapping his hands, chivvying the Green Jackets to their feet. They massed and trotted cheerfully into line, Harris looking at Sharpe and grinning to himself. Sharpe just winked at him and turned to his blanket, wrapping it up and rolling it, strapping it to his pack quickly. He straightened and looked round to find everyone as ready as theyd ever be.
Right then, Harper, you keep em in line, I have to tell that bastard Colonel were taking point, he grumbled, scooping up his pack and rifle, turning away. Harper turned back and looked at the men, their faces reflecting their doubts as Sharpe stalked off.
Hey now lads, whats with the long faces? he said cheerfully. You heard the Major, did you not? Hes not going to let anyone put us in red coats, he added vehemently. Harris sniffed.
Were not saying he cant do it, Harps, he piped up. But sometimes things dont work out how he wants.
Well, this is one of those times when you find yourself in the dark, and then at the last minute you find a light, he said cheerfully. Moore snorted.
Yeah, but thats normally a mirror, he muttered.
Then we know how to find our way back, dont we rifleman? Harper said quickly, and a few smiles broke out. Now then, are we primed and ready, gentlemen? Were scouting ahead, so we are, weve got just six hours to reach that hill and find some Frogs to dispatch. Are you with me?
Well, if were not, were in the wrong country, Harris replied, as everyone flipped open frizzens and began to load their rifles.
Colonel Morton, sir, Sharpe said carefully, approaching a small circle of men. Amongst a man-servant, a man fussing over some horses reins and a Lieutenant discussing tactics, Morton seemed distracted. He looked up at Sharpes voice.
You! he hissed. Sharpe stopped dead, fingering his rifle in his left hand.
Sir, the Chosen Men are ready, were about to move out and take the hill, sir. Well
Youll do no such thing, Sharpe! he spat. I am in command here, Ill decide where your rifles go!
Begging yer pardon, sir, but Colonel Lawford instructed me to
Well Colonel Lawford aint here, is he? he interrupted maliciously. You seem to think you can swan around the hills doing whatever you want! Well I have some orders for you, Major: youre to escort the South Essex and 54th across country. We must push hard and be at the top of the hill, overlooking the village of Rolinda and the river Trampa, in less than six hours, he ordered.
Sharpes eyes narrowed. The Lieutenant, from the 54th, shifted away from Morton slightly. Sharpe took a deep breath, cleared his throat and looked at his feet for a second. He looked up at Morton slowly.
Sir, the Chosen Men are skirmishers. You wanted to know what we do, and thats it. If you want to win, youll order us to scout ahead on top of the hills, watching fer French ambushes and clearing anything that gets
You forget, sir, I get information you dont! Morton snapped. Sharpe closed his mouth slowly, his hand tightening on his rifle. We know there to be a clear road straight to the village. We have no need of your sneaking about, pretending youre somehow more important than the actual striking force, man!
You want to march two hundred men fer six hours along a straight road, in broad daylight, knowing there are enemy battalions also marching about, and you dont think were in any danger of being spotted and attacked? Sir? he demanded.
I know so, sir! he countered angrily. Now get back to your men and bring them here! And make sure you do it well, sir! This may be the last time you ever command such a motley crew. When I report to his Lordship, youll find yourself on a ship for the Americas and your Green Jackets in proper regiments where they belong! Now snap to! he shouted.
Sharpe eyed him for a long moment. Morton met his burning stare bravely at first, but then wilted and turned away deliberately. Sharpe breathed out a long, relaxing breath, then turned and began to walk back to the men.
Sharpe! Morton called angrily. Sharpe stopped, closed his eyes a second, then turned slowly and fixed him with a stare that would have melted the filigree in the mans epaulettes if Morton hadnt shifted nervously. Morton swallowed, then rallied. You didnt salute me, sir, he snapped, to cover his wavering courage.
Sharpe considered it. How bout two bottle-beggarin fingers, you arsewipe? He straightened, snapped his heels together, and inclined his head slightly.
Sir, he said politely. Morton eyed him, then waved him away. Sharpe smiled pleasantly and turned, walking away softly through the spindly grass. Morton watched him cautiously, then turned to the Lieutenant. Withwood, he said, looking at him, keeping his shoulders back and his nose high, back the 54th, sir, and send my compliments to Colonel Bane. Please advise him we are gathering as one force and marching onto the village. I will take the South Essex out this instant, we have no time to lose, he said imperiously. Lieutenant Withwood nodded, turned, and exited as swiftly as his feet would carry him, hastily holding his shako to his head as he went. Morton turned to the others, then took the reins of the horse and mounted up smoothly.
Harper stomped along, watching the slight hills either side of them as they went. The Chosen Men were stationed at intervals at either side of the South Essex, Harper at the rear right, his eyes searching the tops of the hills incessantly. Sharpe was at the front, his rifle in both hands, his shoulders stiff and his feet heavy.
Lieutenant Withwood was next to him, marching gingerly. They had been on the move only twenty minutes before Colonel Bane had asked him to leave the 54th and attend to Major Sharpe. Although hed heard his Colonel talk about Major Sharpe several times, he had been prepared for neither his appearance nor his manner.
To be honest, Im a little frightened, he admitted. He looked at Sharpe and hoped hed never have to cross the stern features and piercing eyes. He swallowed.
Ah, sir? he ventured. Sharpes gaze didnt waver from the road ahead.
Yes, Lieutenant, he replied clearly.
Ah The men, sir, he offered, They seem uneasy to see your Rifles walking with us, sir. I must confess, Ive never seen
Thats cos were not supposed to march with anyone, Lieutenant, he snapped angrily. Were supposed to scout ahead and keep the way clear. Thats our job, thats what we do.
I see, he said. It was quiet for a long moment. Sharpe looked at him, but his gaze was less fierce than before.
How long have you been a Lieutenant, Withwood? he asked curiously.
Just a year, sir, he said uneasily. I was an Ensign for three years before that, sir, he added.
Three years? he asked, surprised.
You have to put in three years before theyll let you buy up, sir, he said uneasily. Sharpe grinned, then looked ahead.
Is that how they do things now? he asked, apparently of himself.
Id like to be a Major some day, he said helpfully. Sharpe looked at him and his stern expression cracked into a small smile.
And whys that? he asked.
Because there are less officers who can tell you what to do, sir, he pointed out. Sharpe grinned.
That there are. But the ones as can tell you what to do arent snotty little Captains any more, theyre pompous, self-serving bastard Colonels, he chuckled. Withwood stared at him. Sharpe noticed and sobered. How old are you, Withwood? he asked.
Twenty, sir, he said with pride. Sharpes smile faded slightly.
Then do summat for me, he said seriously. Withwood nodded. When we find these Frogs, fight like theres no tomorrow. Then find yerself a good woman and leave the army. Marry her and do summat else before the army kills you.
Withwood stared, then closed his mouth and forced himself to nod. He stared at the road and they walked in silence for a few minutes. At last he looked back at Sharpe.
Er, sir? he asked carefully. Sharpe looked at him. Well, why havent you done that, sir? he asked.
Tried it once. But its not fer me, Sharpe allowed.
Ah. So the armys going to have to kill you to get rid of you, sir? he asked cheekily, and Sharpe grinned at him.
Take moren some French army to kill me, son, he said, and they chuckled.
They marched on.
Sharpe! Here! Morton called. Sharpe looked at Withwood, then turned and walked to the two Colonels and their horses. He stopped by Colonel Banes horse, wanting to put as much distance between him and Morton as possible.
Ah, there you are, Richard, Bane smiled.
Right then gentlemen, lets survey the land, shall we? Morton said haughtily, dismounting and pulling a telescope from his jacket. Bane swung down from his horse and clapped Sharpe on the arm, gesturing toward the hill top thirty feet away with his head. Sharpe turned, slung his rifle over his shoulder, and followed.
Bane and Sharpe got on their hands and knees to crawl up to the top of the hill.
I say, old man, get down, would you? Bane said impatiently. Morton looked back, realised they were on their fronts, and quickly ducked down.
Oh yes, I see, he said quickly. Bane just tutted and he and Sharpe edged up the brow of the hill. They lay flat, looking over. Morton copied them, finding himself at Sharpes right elbow. Sharpe ignored him as the three of them stared down into the valley.
The hill gently sloped down a good two hundred feet, a hundred-foot gap to the village. There was no wall, no gates, no official entry point, just a ramshackle jumble of thatched cottages and houses dotted about. Morton sniffed to himself, lifting his telescope and opening it grandly, the expensive instrument putting Banes to shame. Bane just watched Morton, his mouth open, as the man lifted the telescope to look out.
Sharpe noticed and put his right hand up quickly, knocking the telescope down suddenly.
Sharpe! Morton hissed.
Sunlight, sir, Sharpe snapped. You want em to see your glass flashing away like a penniless lass in a whorehouse? he demanded. Morton coloured.
You will try to act like a gentleman, sir, he hissed back angrily. Gentleman do not use such language!
And Colonels dont point their bastard telescopes against the sun into the direct sight of Frog officers in a village, sir! Sharpe shot back. Morton ground his teeth, meeting Sharpes hardened gaze.
Hes got a good point, Colonel, Bane said stiffly. Sharpe looked away from Morton deliberately.
Whats the matter, Major, couldnt afford a telescope? he asked snidely. Sharpe looked back at him, holding his eyes as he put his hand inside his tunic and pulled out his telescope. He cleared his throat as he pulled it to full extension, the plate with the dedication plainly visible. Morton caught the inscription and his face dropped for a long moment.
No sir, I just know how to use it, sir, Sharpe said pleasantly, putting his hand back inside his tunic and pulling out his handkerchief. He found the threadbare corner and held it over the glass of the instrument, lifting it and looking out over the hill. Bane smiled, shaking his head and waiting.
Well? he asked. Sharpe took a deep breath.
Blue coats everywhere, sir, he said shortly. Looks like Bloody hell! Theres three battalions spreading out, sir, he said. Looks like theyre getting ready to cross the river!
Three? Ready to cross already? Morton said fearfully. But theyre not supposed to go till noon!
Perhaps they didnt get their orders from Lawford in time, sir, Sharpe snapped sarcastically. Morton turned on his side and rounded on him.
Now look here, you ruffian whoreson, when I want
Morton! Get your arse back to your horse and get ready to move the men out, right now! Bane snapped. Morton snapped his telescope shut angrily and inched backwards, leaving Bane huffing and muttering to himself. He looked at Sharpe. What a man, eh? he said, then put a hand to Sharpes shoulder, patting once. Im sure hes just learnt that word and has been dying to try it out on someone, eh? he said helplessly. Dont hold it again him, he said, beginning to inch backwards. Sharpe huffed, then started inching backwards on his elbows as well.
I dont sir, hes right, after all, he said. Funny though, how to some people Ill always be some scruffy, unwashed bastard theyd rather do without till they need me to do summat they dont have the balls to do themselves, he grumbled. Bane stopped short.
He was right? Bane asked, surprised. Sharpe looked at him.
Aye. He stopped short, looking at Bane. For the first time he felt ashamed. Bane was looking at him as if hed just told him he was actually French after all. They looked at each other for a long moment, then Sharpe found he couldnt meet the mans eyes any more and he looked at the grass under his elbows, pursing his lips. There was a long silence.
Well Looks like youve made the most of what you were given, Id say, Bane said nervously, and Sharpe suddenly realised the man was embarrassed. He watched Bane inch his way back before getting to his feet slowly, brushing off his sleeves. Sharpe sighed, then inched back quickly and climbed to his feet.
Right sir, I suggest we get the men down this hill as fast as we can and onto those French, Morton said, climbing back onto his horse. We have no time to spare.
Absolutely, sir, Bane said, some of the wind gone from his sails. He looked at Sharpe before flicking his gaze up to Morton. He looked at the horse, stopping short and thinking. He looked back at Sharpe, looking him up and down slowly, and then looked back up at Morton, looking him over too. Morton noticed.
Something amiss, sir? he asked curiously. Bane looked back at Sharpe for a long moment. Sharpe realised he was being watched and turned to look at him. Bane smiled warmly at him.
Nothing thats our fault, Im sure, he said, straightening and pulling his red jacket straight with a quick tug. He nodded to Sharpe. Well then, how are we to proceed, hmm? he asked, looking back at Morton. I believe Colonel Lawford put you in charge of manoeuvres?
That he did sir, that he did, Morton said proudly. Myself and Mister Sharpe will take half the South Essex down the hill, sir. You and your 54th will provide rear support. Once we engage the French, your men will spread out and form a defensive line. We will pound the devils, but your force will tidy up anything we miss. Clear? he asked.
Bane and Sharpe looked at each other.
Clear, they both chorused. Morton nodded, then turned his horse and kicked it to a canter, back to the lines. Bane shook his head, removed his cocked hat and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. Sharpe just huffed, pushing his handkerchief and telescope back into his tunic and doing up the buttons slowly. Bane turned, looked at him, and clapped him on the shoulder, and they walked back toward the lines slowly.
Bane, Morton and Sharpe stood at the front, Sharpe loading his rifle slowly.
Really Sharpe, must you? Morton scoffed. As if youre going to do much damage with that.
Sharpe ignored him, turning and shouting to the ranks behind him. Rifles! To me! he bellowed. Morton opened his mouth but hesitated as seven green-jacketed men poured out from the ranks of the South Essex, jogging toward Sharpe. Loaded? Primed? he asked curtly.
Just say the word, sir, Hagman grinned. Sharpe nodded, lifting his rifle in his left hand.
Right, spread out, fifteen feet each, set up and pick off them officers, he said.
Sir! the men chirped, scattering. Morton watched, outraged.
What the Hell do you think youre doing, Sharpe? he demanded. Sharpe turned quickly, pinning him with a stare that would have made his horse skittish if hed been paying attention.
My job, sir. Watch, you might learn summat, he snapped. Morton sat, speechless, as Sharpe walked to the brow of the hill. If anyone had been looking up, they probably would not have been worried by the silhouette of a single man looking down the hill at the three clumps of men preparing to ford a river with long boats. Right lads! On my shot! he called. This man wants to know what we do show im! he shouted angrily.
He knelt down, his right elbow sitting comfortably on his knee, holding the rifle up in position. He closed his left eye, looking down the long barrel and pulling the Baker rifle back to full-cock slowly.
Just better hit summat, or Im going to look pretty stupid, he thought, swallowing quickly. He found a large plumed hat in his sights and smiled maliciously. He waited till he had a good bead on it and squeezed back on the trigger.
The crack and puff of smoke had barely registered with Morton before a volley of cracks and cheers broke out around them. Sharpe was already reloading like lightning, the others doing the same.
Bane and Morton took out their telescopes and looked over the hill. French soldiers were shouting and scattering, their calm, orderly groups shattered. Men fell, rifles cracked, Green Jackets whooped in celebration and continued their assault.
Rifles! Take it to em! Sharpe shouted, before letting off another perfect shot. It connected with a running French sergeant and Sharpe bounced to his feet, reloading even as he and the Chosen Men ran to the hill and down, disappearing quickly.
Well, that seems to have done it, eh? Bane chuckled. He looked at Morton. Well then, sir, you take your half of the South Essex, and Ill get back to my half and the 54th, he said.
Sir, Morton nodded, wheeling his horse and looking at the men. South Essex, half battalion! he called, drawing his sword and waving it high. Lieutenant Withwood! Go!
Withwood drew his sword and looked at the men.
Follow me! he bellowed, Down the hill! The men moved as one, a rippling tide of red and white washing down over the side of the hill. The colours swept past Morton and he sat back on his horse, watching with satisfaction as they stampeded toward glory. They scrambled down the hill, meeting the bottom neatly.
South Essex! Lieutenant Withwood shouted. Form ranks!
They jumbled and scrambled into line, four men deep, their muskets up and ready. Withwood turned and saw the masses of three French battalions mustering order and getting ready to advance in columns. He swallowed hastily.
First rank! Muskets ready! he shouted. The men in the front rank raised their muskets and aimed as best they could. Fire!
The volley went out and ripped into the French. Most fell, but the ones behind simply stepped over their fallen comrades and carried on. The thin columns were cutting down on the number of casualties admirably. The front rank of the South Essex knelt down swiftly to reload.
Second rank! Withwood shouted calmly. Fire! The second volley went out perfectly timed, the men sinking to their knees to reload their muskets. Withwood waited until some of the acrid smoke had been cleared by the stiff breeze. Third rank! he commanded and they raised their muskets. Fire!
Sharpe and the Chosen Men kept their distance on the side of the hill, a good fifty feet behind the South Essexs half battalion. They sat comfortably, picking off men at their leisure. Pretty soon there were few officers left.
Sharpes concentration was shattered as a huge horse bore down on him from the side. He wobbled on his knee and almost fell, looking up to find Morton looking down at him.
Get up, man! he shouted at him, waving his sword. On, sir, on!
Sharpe cursed at him as the Colonel turned his horse and headed for the fray. He steadied himself and fired his rifle, leaping up and looking around.
Rifles! Fall back! he bellowed. Morton heard and turned to look at him.
What the devil
Rifles! Rifles! Sharpe shouted over the noise of musket fire and rifle cracks. Fall back!
Sharpe turned and stood, surveying the carnage at the base of the hill. Lieutenant Withwood had performed perfectly, readying and using the men to best effect, but that couldnt stop close to four hundred French soldiers approaching the scant hundred men with muskets. Sharpe cursed, turning to one side and spitting out the saltpetre quickly.
Morton harried his horse over to Sharpe, wheeling it round hastily.
What are you doing, man? Were into them! he shouted.
Look, sir! Sharpe shouted angrily, pointing with his free left hand. The South Essex are about to get massacred! This int a battle, its a bloody slaughterin field! he bellowed. Get em back, now! While theres still someone to get back!
Men in green rushed past them, back up the hill quickly, stopping to fire with deadly accuracy even as they retreated.
Ill have your Majority for this, Sharpe! Morton snarled, kicking his horse on and riding straight toward Lieutenant Withwood. Sharpe turned and grabbed at a running Green Jacket.
Brown! he shouted, catching his attention. Brown saluted quickly, grinning. Get back up that bastard hill, tell Bane to get the other half of the South Essex an all his 54th down here! Now! he shouted.
Brown scrambled away up the hill, as fast as his legs would carry him. Sharpe turned round and spotted that the Chosen Men had found vantage points dotted around the hill. They were reloading, not even bothering with the paper wraps for the balls in their haste. They aimed and picked off anything blue. Sharpe turned and looked at Morton, riding his horse toward the brave Lieutenant Withwood. Sharpe thought of the twenty-year-old.
Hell just struggle on, cos thats his job. And when some Frog stabs him through the heart, hell think on what Ive told him and about leaving, and wish hed taken me advice. He huffed and slung his rifle over his shoulder, the hot barrel bouncing against his should blade. He lifted the strap and looped it across him securely. He drew his sword and ran forwards.
Third rank! Fire! Withwood shouted, the men trembling now as the French pressed forwards. They were nearly within throwing distance. Withwood gripped his sword tightly, feeling the fear and sweat very keenly. He swallowed and started to pray. Fix bayonets! he shouted hoarsely. All three ranks of the South Essex stood, fumbling to get the blades from the barrels, screwing them on as fast as they could.
Withwood! Sharpe shouted, appearing next to him. He looked back at the men, noticing them and their bayonets ready. Good work, lad, he said, clapping him on the elbow. Withwood just looked at him.
Weve got slightly more than we can handle, sir, he said slowly, hearing the jump of fear in his own voice all too well. Sharpe grinned.
This is the army, son, there are always more than we can handle, he said confidently. Withwood swallowed. Colonel Bane and two and a half battalions are on their way. We just need to keep em here till they get down that hill. Can you do that? he challenged.
Withwood looked at him, taking in his face smudged with black cartridge powder, his much-used, proud uniform, the large sword with the nicked blade but a sharp edge, and looked back at Sharpes clear green eyes that were waiting for some spark of bravado. Withwood found it.
Yes sir! he replied clearly, straightening. Sharpe grinned.
Then lets give them bastards a good kickin, he commanded. South Essex! he shouted, lifting his sword diagonally across him, finding the French literally a few sword-lengths away. Charge!
The redcoats ran at the blue. Men stabbed and cursed, shouted and clubbed. Swords clanged on musket stocks, bayonets scraped on cartridge boxes, fists flailed out at heads. Sharpe raked a man across the back, kicking him away from him. He turned to see a horse dancing in fear and ran towards it.
He found Morton cowering nearby, with the fallen bodies of South Essex men. He ran over, grabbed him by the lapel and heaved him to his feet.
Get up, man! Sharpe shouted into his face.
Theyre trying to kill me! Morton gibbered. Sharpe pushed him from him, turning and picking up a sword. He advanced on Morton, who stepped back. But Sharpe simply pushed the sword into his hands. He turned and fended off a large French soldier, slicing at his neck neatly. Two more jumped at him. It took all his strength to wrench his sword into the first and drag it free to slice at the second. He turned and looked back at Morton.
He was just standing, watching, both hands clutching the sword hilt in fear as men swarmed around him.
Bloody hell, man! Kill some bugger! Now! Sharpe roared at him, but Morton just turned glassy eyes on him and stared, witless. Sharpe heard someone shout and turned in time for someone to club at his head. He was pushed to the ground. He rolled, shaking his head and looking up. A French soldier with a bayonet blade leapt at him. Sharpe got his hands to his throat and squeezed. The Frenchman elbowed him in the gut and Sharpe wheezed, winded. He fell back and the Frenchman sat up, lifting the bayonet. Sharpe suddenly sprang up and headbutted the man in the eye.
He fell back. Sharpe leapt up and stamped down on the mans windpipe as hard as he could. He deemed him out of the fight and turned to pick up his sword. He looked up at Morton, then ran over.
He grabbed his elbow and yanked him from the fray, heading for the hill. He cut and slashed at anything blue as he dragged the man, still clutching the sword, toward the safety of the red lines by the hill.
Thats it boys! Show them whos got first dibs on the Spanish girls! Bane was shouting from atop his horse. He turned and noticed Sharpe pull Morton to the hillside and push him down roughly.
You stay there, you useless bastard, until weve cleared this mess up! If we ever get out of this, Im bloody well sending you back to Horse Guards wi no balls! Sharpe roared. He turned and fought his way back Bane.
Ah! There you are, Sharpe! Nice of you to invite me to this little shindig! Bane crowed delightedly. He slid from his horse and grabbed Sharpes shoulder to stop him from getting lost in the melee. I say, have you seen that Morton? he asked slyly.
Found him barrel-eyed, sir, Sharpe said. Gave him every opportunity, but hes not with us. Left him by the hill, sir, he said. Bane tutted disgustedly.
More than he deserves, man! he snorted. Ah well. Just goes to show, eh? Good work, Major, good work, he nodded, then drew his sword. Up and at em, Major! he cried.
The two men split and jumped into the noise, roaring and swinging like madmen. Bane was a powerhouse of strength and agility, beating down swords and musket bayonets alike. He whirled and sliced, stabbed and heaved.
Sharpe hacked at anything that tried to get close to him. All he could see were blue coats jumping at him. All he could hear was the clang of metal on metal, metal on wooden stocks, metal on men. He roared and swung his sword, kicking out. He rammed his shoulder into the bulk of a huge blue coat, sending them both to the ground. He squirmed on top and slammed his elbow into the side of the mans head. He leapt off him and grabbed his sword, struggling to his feet as men kept on coming.
Withwood looked up, his sword dripping, his hat lost, his face running with sweat. He found himself looking at the river, but instead of marvelling at the shimmering surface, he saw the dark figures on the opposite bank. He heard shouts and swallowed, realising they were about to be attacked by the new arrivals.
Then a shout rang out and a curious, small rag was raised. He grinned, then waved his sword at them, laughing. The strange group of figures waded into the river a short way until they were stopped by the start of strong currents.
Regalo de santo? someone shouted at him, and he grinned, nodding.
I bloody hope so! he called back. The people jumped and waved delightedly, turning to the long boats tied at the banks. They started untying them and loading them with men and carbines.
Withwood turned and surveyed the carnage. He took a deep breath, noticing the only soldiers still standing were wearing red, or at least, had been. Now they were all shades of purple and burgundy, blood and mud covering what had started out as brushed red. He put his hand to his crossbelt and found his whistle, pulling it out.
He gave three short blasts, and the men in red started to look around for someone in charge.
South Essex! 54th! he shouted as best he could, with his raw throat and aching chest. Form lines!
Men in red started to coalesce into lines, finding spaces and manoeuvring themselves into columns. He did a quick count and noticed with pleasure that the left-hand group were ten across and around seven men deep. The right-hand group, the buttons denoting them as the 54th, appeared to be eight men across and at least six deep.
Withwood grinned, standing his sword tip on the grass and looking around. He saw Colonel Bane waving to him from the opposite side of the right-hand group, then pause to wipe his sword on the grass. He walked over slowly, grinning and clapping at mens arms in the ranks as he did so.
Bloody good job, lads! he shouted at the top of his lungs, and the ranks cheered and threw hats. Bane laughed, turning to Withwood and putting his hand on his shoulder. Well, glad to see youre safe, George! he bellowed.
Oh yes sir, me too sir, he said gratefully, and Bane laughed. He looked around, then his smile faded slightly.
Major Sharpe! he shouted suddenly. Rifles! The ranks of red turned to look about, then one man shouted and pointed. The ranks all turned to look, as did the two officers. Sharpe and the Chosen Men were at the river, behind everyone, helping Spanish bandits out of boats and onto dry land. Bane grinned, patted Withwoods shoulder hard enough to make him take a step to steady himself, and turned and walked over.
An old man with a huge pipe was babbling something at Sharpe, who was doing his best to slow him down and communicate that he wasnt sure what was going on. Bane strode up behind them, and the man peered round Sharpe to see him. He said something, then looked back at Sharpe.
I say, whats he on about? Bane asked.
Ive no idea, sir, Sharpe said helplessly. But now youre here, he said, pleased, turning to look at the man. See him? he asked, chucking his thumb over his shoulder at Bane, hes the Colonel coronel, he said desperately. Me, he added, stabbing his thumb into his tunic, comandante, thats all, mate. He lifted his left hand at his eye-height. Him, coronel, and then me, he said, raising his right hand only to chest-height, Major, comandante, right?
The man grinned, laughing and grabbing him by both upper arms, babbling on and laughing. The other men and women gathered around, laughing too. Sharpe sighed, then looked at Bane. He pushed into the happy throng.
Now then, see here, Bane said happily, smiling and trying to look as friendly as possible, Im in charge, you see?
But the rotund man with the big pipe simply edged him politely out of the way, grabbing hold of Sharpes elbow again and pulling on it. Sharpe stared at him.
No, mate, Im not in charge here, he said urgently. The man laughed and nodded.
Chaquetas verdes green! he cheered, armas largos, si?
Bloody hell, wheres Harris? he asked himself, looking around. Moore pushed his way through.
Hes talking about rifles, sir, he said helpfully. Dont know much, but I know that word in any language, he grinned. Sharpe grabbed Moores jacket before he could be carried away in the crush.
Fine. Tell him Banes in charge, so we can get off this spit of land, he ordered. Moore turned to the old leader, and in his best, faltering Spanish, explained. It didnt seem to faze the partisans at all, and as Bane watched, the men in green were bundled along in a happy conflagration of singing and cheering, toward the battleground that was now being rifled for souvenirs.
Sir! Harper shouted indiscriminately, wandering the lines of fallen men, looking at the uniforms carefully.
Harps! Harris called, sitting with his feet up on a brick, his jacket off and his shirt torn to shreds. Harper walked over, spying the huge red lump of bandage on the younger mans upper arm.
And what happened to you? Harper asked.
Had a disagreement with a young man in blue, over which end of his sword I should be holding, Harris said cheerfully. Still, all over now, he added.
Aye, Harper said. He looked around. Have you seen the Major?
No, Harris said. Why?
Cant find him, Harper said gingerly.
Hes not with Lawford? I heard they were meeting partisan leaders in his tent not too long ago, Harris said.
You know how the Major has a soft spot for partisans, he grinned.
Aye, well, spect hes round here somewhere then, eh? he said, nodding to Harris before walking on to the hastily erected officers tent.
He stopped by the flaps, then looked at the South Essex man on duty. He leaned in and said something quietly, and the guard looked at him before nodding slowly. Harper grinned, nodded his thanks, and wandered to the pile of soldiers packs ten feet away, sitting down and getting comfortable.
Inside the tent, Sharpe stood to attention with his shako under his arm, his back as straight as he could hold it while it throbbed and ached. Colonel Bane was standing with his hands behind his back, watching Lawford write a long letter at his desk. Colonel Morton stood at the side of the desk, watching and protesting angrily.
Shut up, man, theres a good soldier, Lawford snapped at him.
I will fight this all the way to Wellington! Morton shouted. Dont forget I know people at Horse Guards! How dare you write such lies about me!
Lies, sir? Bane asked angrily, walking forwards. Saw you with my own eyes, man, gibbering and cowering like some five year old under their bed! he added furiously. If it hadnt been for Major Sharpe, youd be in two pieces right now!
I resent the implication that this scruffy, common gutter-thief somehow aided me in my fight against the French! he shot back.
Oh-ho! You fought the French, did you? Bane shot back. That must have been hard from your knees!
How dare you! Morton seethed.
Gentlemen, please! Lawford shouted suddenly. He flicked his gaze up at Sharpe. Major, would you be good enough to sign this, please? he asked.
Sharpe smiled pleasantly, walked forward and took the quill from Lawford, looking at Morton as he bent over and dipped it in the ink. He leaned over and signed his name neatly on the line at the bottom marked witness. He handed the quill back to Lawford, straightening and standing back.
Everything seems to be in order now, Lawford said with great satisfaction. He looked up at Morton. This letter, containing our certified true account of what happened and how you lost your nerve and your command to Colonel Bane and Major Sharpe at the river Trampa, will be delivered to Horse Guards by my personal carrier. I expect you will be stripped of rank. However, I rather think you were lucky it was Major Sharpe on that field sir, and not myself. I dont know I if could have brought myself to save such a pitiful wretch from certain death, under the same circumstances, he scoffed. Be thankful youre still alive.
Well see about this, Morton said quietly. Lawford smiled.
I expect we will. However, I rather think you should thank Major Sharpe for saving your life, Mister Morton, he said maliciously. Morton just stared at him.
Me? Thank him? he asked, horrified.
Yes sir, you sir. Now, if you dont mind. After all, were all gentlemen here, arent we? he said airily. Dont forget, Major Sharpe also has friends at Horse Guards. It may be to your advantage, he added slyly.
Morton swallowed, turned, and looked at Sharpe. He was still standing to attention, his shako under his right arm, watching Morton with an evil look on his face. Morton cleared his throat and walked over to him gingerly. He stopped in front of him, straightened and put on his most convincingly sincere face.
Major Sharpe, he said bravely. I would like to offer you my thanks and appreciation for your actions on the battlefield today. In particular, I would like to thank you for saving my life, he managed, his voice thin, the act galling him deeply. He looked at Sharpe and waited.
The taller rifleman sniffed to himself and licked dry lips, before looking down at his shako and lifting it onto his head. He tugged at the brim to pull it straight, then looked at Morton.
He stepped forward and in one swift movement had kneed him with all his strength in the groin. Morton howled and fell over backwards, clapping his hands to the injured area and rolling around on the floor. Sharpe smiled pleasantly.
Youre welcome, he said cheerfully, nodding to both Colonels before turning and walking out of the tent.
He ignored the sounds of boisterous laughter and groaned curses admirably, walking away from the tent with a broad grin of satisfaction on his face. He noticed Harper sat on the pile of disused packs and stopped.
And whats got you in such a good mood, sir? the big Irishman asked, watching him. You and your knee sorted out Mister Morton, did you?
Sharpe chuckled, shaking his head. And how did you know that? he asked as Harper got to his feet slowly, brushing his uniform down.
Oh, just something I heard on the wind, sir, he grinned, then broke into a chuckle.
Is there anything you dont hear about? Sharpe asked, and they turned to walk back toward the mass of South Essexs walking wounded.
Oh, Im sure theres something, sir. Pity Mister Morton hadnt heard about the things Id heard about or at least, one thing in particular, he added cheerfully.
And whats that, Sergeant? Sharpe asked, half-dreading the answer.
Harper grinned a grin that touched his eyes and said, Sharpes knee.
None of this really happened. I made it all up.
No poncy, up-their-own-arse Lieutenant Colonels were harmed during the writing of this fan-fic ~ unfortunately. However, some of Sharpe's shiny buttons needed a damned good polishing, something with which Miss Jacinda was only too happy to help.
~ The Mardy Bum,
15th July, 2006.
Hong Kong S.A.R.