|No rights infringement intended. M/F
For Jen who asked for a hot air balloon story.
My sincere thanks go to Jay continues to make a great editor and keep me on track, even when real life interrupts as it did so many times during the writing of this story! Also my thanks to Minerva for her continued encouragement & motivation!
Note: I've tried to be as accurate as possible when describing the hot air balloon, however I was able to find very little information about Napoleon's use of hot air balloons. I never did find any information saying he used them in Spain, nor did I find any that said he didn't. Also there is a great deal of information about early balloons beginning in the 1780's, but pans out in the early 1800's and doesn't pick up again until the American Civil War. Also I'm well aware that Major Hogan doesn't appear in the film Sharpe's Honour, but as I like him better than Nairn I took an extra bit of extra artistic license.
You in the moonlight
With your sleepy eyes
Could you ever love a man like me
Sometimes I'm a strong man
Sometimes cold and scared
And sometimes I cry
Lovers forever face to face
My city or mountain
Stay with me stay
I need you to love me
I need you today
Give to me your leather
Take from me my lace.
The cold of the dark early morning roused an unwilling Major Richard Sharpe from the warm cocoon of his dreams. Next to him he felt a soft warm feminine form pressed up close against his long hard frame. For one long second he was back in the mists of his dreams and it was his beautiful wife Teresa there next him. It was her hungry arms wrapped around him and her coal black tresses tickling his nose.
But all too soon the mists that had wrapped their way around his thoughts evaporated. The woman next to him wasnt his beloved wife, who was now an angel in heaven as she had been his angel on Earth. Instead beside him was La Marquesa, Helene Mendora. She was half-French, half-English and more importantly a French spy. She had been married to a Spanish noble, until his very recent and untimely death. The very man which, Sharpe had been accused, convicted, and "hanged" for murder.
Sharpe stared at the few remaining embers left glowing in their campfire. The smoke, thin wisps of grey ribbon curled their way up into the bitterly cold morning air. The fire had barely provided any heat last night and this morning offered nothing at all, but a pile of grey soot and few glowing patches. He exhaled a long breath of weariness and unhappiness. A single vaporous cloud floated forth from his lips onto the chilled air. He pulled his leather jacket tighter around him trying to conserve his precious body heat. For the umpteenth time he longed for if not his great coat then his beloved dark green wool rifleman's jacket.
Sharpe shifted the warm bundle of lace and golden curls next to him. Watching Helene sleep Sharpe couldnt help but notice a softness and beauty to her, that she hid behind a tart tongue and a cunning mind. He lightly ran his hand over her smooth ivory skin, cheeks pinked by the cold and full rose coloured lips. And then there was the rest of her body. Sharpe groaned softly as he felt her breasts press into his side and one of her long legs tossed carelessly atop his own.
As a British soldier a part of Sharpe hated Helene and everything she stood for. She was a spy for the French who had come close to accomplishing what no man on the battlefield had; killing Sharpe. He hated her for her lies and misplaced loyalty as a partial English woman. His hatred was only magnified by her betrayal to her husband and his country. However, as a man, English or otherwise he couldnt deny an intense attraction to her. A tiny moan escaped her lips and Sharpe felt her snuggle closer. At that moment Sharpe wasn't sure whom he hated more. Helene for having him stripped of his rank and nearly having him hung or himself for giving in to his attraction to her last night.
Sharpe pulled himself to his feet anxious to escape the closeness. His body screamed in protest with every move. "Bloody hell!" who ever knew nuns could fight so hard he thought rubbing his wounded leg. Perhaps Wellington should get himself a battalion of them. They might give the French a "right good thrashing," as he liked to say. The pain in his leg began ease as he moved around loosening the cold stiff muscles, but it was still sore.
Sharpe limped about trying to get his blood circulating and restore even a hint of warmth. Just then he heard a noise in the sad looking hedgerow to his left. He spun and scooped up his precious Baker rifle in one easy movement. His finger rested on the trigger as he aimed the rifle at the moving shrub. He relaxed and lowered the rifle as soon he recognised the large form of his Irish Sargent Patrick Harper emerging from the hedge.
"Christ, Harper! I could have bloody shot yer head off," Sharpe said more relieved than angry.
"Oh I know ya wouldn't do dat, Sir," Harper grinned.
"Why's that?" Sharpe asked knowing Harper's answer was liable to be good.
"Who else would ya get ta make ya yer tea how ya like it?" he joked.
Sharpe chuckled. Leave it to Harper he thought to find another way to make himself look indispensable. Though to Sharpe he already was.
"I was just checkin' fer any sign of the Frogs," Harper said interrupting Sharpe's thoughts.
"And?" Sharpe asked with a hint of anxiousness.
"There are some tracks here and there, if I had ta guess I'd say dat they're out there somewhere Sir," Harper replied gravely.
Sharpe eyed his surroundings with practised caution. The sun was just beginning to barely peak over the horizon in the east. The lack of overnight cloud cover had dropped the temperature to near freezing. Sharpe noticed Harper had stuck his big burley hands in his pockets in an effort to warm them.
Sharpe's face darkened at the seriousness of the situation. He was supposed to be dead and Helene locked away in a convent. They needed to return to the army's camp and quickly. The longer they were out in the open the greater the chance they would be found by the French.
"I think the General will be most anxious ta see us," Sharpe said.
"I thought ya might be sayin' dat, Mr. Sharpe," Harper replied with a grin. Sharpe wasn't fooled by the easy grin though he knew Harper well enough to read the Irishman's hidden worry. Being caught in French territory was an idea neither of them relished.
"Let's get her back ta the General and get this whole mess sorted out," Sharpe said gesturing to a still sleeping Helene.
"Right, Sir," Harper agreed.
Sharpe looked at the remnants of the fire longingly. How he wanted a good hot cup of tea, but to light another fire would attract the attention of any French in the vicinity so he did without. Taking out his unhappiness on Helene instead.
"Up, Get up!" Sharpe growled at Helene.
Groggily Helene struggled to wake up. Trying to retain some modesty she pulled her drab grey skirt down around her legs covering her lace under garments. One of the few things the nuns had managed not to steal from her. "Frightful witches!" she cursed them.
Her blue eyes challenged Sharpe's dark green ones in a silent battle of wills.
"Yer goin' back ta see the General and explain ta him what ya done and what ya told me Ducos is plannin'," he said in a voice that said the subject was not open to debate.
Helene shrugged as if the situation mattered little to her. For all of her reaction Sharpe might have asked her if she preferred one or two lumps of sugar in her tea.
"Is that so?" Helene asked arching one delicate eyebrow in question.
"Would ya 'ave preferred I left ya in that convent with them.." Sharpe struggled to find a word that accurately described the greedy heartless nuns.
"Banshees," Harper supplied.
"Aye, banshees," Sharpe agreed.
"So instead I end up with a ghost of a British officer and his Irish sergeant, not much difference is there?" she asked dryly, knowing full well the differences were staggering. Still she didn't want either of the two officers to get the idea she would be so easily handled like some domesticated farm animal.
Helene didn't like being attracted to Sharpe any more than he did to her, but she didn't deny the attraction was there. Buried far below the surface of loyalties and political ideologies smouldered a fire far more dangerous than Prometheus.
Ironic she thought running a hand through her long tangled blonde curls, here was a man whom until the other day she had never met, but had signed a piece of paper accusing him of compromising her and condemning him to death. Now upon meeting him she was overwhelmed by the staggering sexuality he projected. Her husband a very handsome man in his own right had never had that sort of wildness about him. A wild passion for life born out of fighting whole heartedly for everything you ever had or hoped to have. It was something men of wealth and privilege could never possess or understand.
Helene's eyes involuntarily drifted to Sharpe deep in conversation with Harper. If Sharpe was an animal Helene guessed he would be a wolf, with those large haunting green eyes and wildly tousled blonde hair. Lean and strong he would be at the top of the pack if he had to claw and fight every inch of the way to get there. And once at the top he would most definitely hold his place of honour having his pick of any of the females. Yes, for this wolf continuation of the species would never be a problem.
Like a wolf this man was beautiful, mesmerising, and very, very dangerous when his claws and teeth were bared. She told herself she would be wise to remember that. Still she sensed that for all of Sharpe's strength he lacked the evil that was the consuming essence of Ducos.
Sharpe noticed Helene intently studying him and wondered what sort of thoughts were going on behind her unreadable face as emotionless as a china figurine. As long as it wasn't thoughts of escape Sharpe told himself Helene's thoughts meant nothing to him. Helene hugged her thin grey cloak around her. The cloak was the same thin drab material as her dress taken from the abbey when she fled with Sharpe. She stomped her booted feet on the hard ground trying unsuccessfully to warm them.
Harper silently watched Sharpe and Helene compete in avoiding one another. The two were far more alike than either was willing to admit, not that
Harper would dare point out that fact to either of them. A couple of skitterish cats they were.
Harper had no love for Helene and those of her profession, but as he sat there watching the two of them he thought the Marquesa might be just the thing to rouse Sharpe from his long mourning. For the first time since Teresa's death Harper was beginning to see just a flicker of life inside Sharpe. Up until now it had seemed to Harper that nothing could crack the shell of anguish Sharpe had constructed around himself. But now perhaps fate had sent Sharpe's salvation in the form of a French spy.
"Ya do work in mysterious ways," Harper muttered skyward.
After collecting their few belonging the trio set out into the cold Spanish morning. Sharpe led the way with Helene boxed in the middle between him and Harper. The trio tromped through the brush. The vigorous activity warming their frozen limbs.
A light frost coated the ground and plant leaves, like sugary icing on delicate teacakes. The thought of food made Helene's stomach grumble. It had been so long since she'd eaten. She had received no food from the nuns and Sharpe and Harper hadn't any to offer her either.
Determinedly she put one foot in front of the other quickly in an effort to keep from getting run over by Harper. Every now and then Sharpe would turn around and his green eyes would narrow and bore into her.
Finally her irritation got the better of her. "I'm not going to run away, not out into the middle of nowhere," she said.
"Aye, I know yer aren't, cause I won't let ya," he replied.
Sharpe knew part of his determination to hold on to Helene had nothing to do with clearing his name or with discovering the details of Ducos' clandestine dealings. It had to do with his wanting Helene, not as a spy, but as a woman. There was something in her independence and fighting resolve to survive that spoke to him. He didn't want it to. He didn't want to want her, but he was forced to accept that he did every time he looked at her.
He carried his Baker rifle loaded and cocked in his finely sculpted hands. In the stillness of the cool morning he heard the soft cracklings of the dead frozen foliage beneath his boots.
Harper all the while brought up the rear, he watched and listened for telltale cues of any French presence in the area. Like Sharpe he held his weapon in his hands cocked and ready. Unlike Sharpe however, Harper carried a deadly seven-barrelled shotgun that recoiled with the force of a mule kick.
Suddenly Sharpe raised his hand for them to halt. Silently they crept up to the towering hedge in front to them. Thankfully the hedge had managed to retain some of its greenery, which concealed their presence. To their left was forest and their right a short jaunt through woods into an open flat field.
Through the gaps in the hedge they could see a small French patrol. Sharpe counted approximately eight blue jackets. To Sharpe it looked as if they had stopped to rest. He cursed them for choosing the exact middle of their path in which to tire.
If they had gone just a bit further they would have run straight into them. Sharpe mentally thanked the French for over working their horses. Had it not been for the distinct odour of saddle rot Sharpe would have never known they were there until it was too late.
Sharpe glared coldly at Helene, his eyes warning her not to try anything foolish. He reached out and pulled her in front of him. His strong arms closed around her waist pressing her backside into his groin. Sharpe quickly realised his mistake and tried unsuccessfully to block the arousal she was evoking with in him. The thin material of her dress and his trousers made for only the slimmest barrier between their bodies. Helene too was well aware of the intimacy of their position.
"What do ya want ta do, Sir," Harper whispered into Sharpe's ear forcing him to think about their situation, rather then Helene.
"Have ta go around 'em," he whispered back.
Harper cocked his head to the right and left asking for an indication of direction. Sharpe shook his head back and forth negatively when Harper gestured to the right. Not the open ground. It would be all too easy from the French to run them down and slash them to bits.
Harper nodded to the left. This time Sharpe nodded his head in agreement. Before they tried to skirt their way around the patrol Sharpe paused to listen in on their conversation. From the French his wife had taught him he knew enough to know it was routine patrol, who were unhappy about being sent out in the cold morning.
Good he thought. They weren't looking for them, nor had they noticed them. It would take them longer to box around the patrol, but they had no alternative unless they fancied being detained and mostly likely captured by the patrol. Sharpe knew in a face to face battle the odds were heavily skewed in favoured the French patrol, so unhappily he opted for the box around.
Helene looked up at Sharpe wondering what the rifleman planned to do. Sharpe pulled her tighter against his body momentarily savouring the feeling of her rounded curves pressing into his own state of arousal. Without a second thought Sharpe tightened his grip on Helene forcing her to remain moulded to his body.
Helene bit back a gasp of surprise. Through her dress she felt the hard evidence of Sharpe's arousal. Knowing what sort of thoughts must be going through Sharpe's mind, because they certainly were going through hers she attempted to put even the slightest distance between their bodies. Too late she realised her wriggling only served to intensify the feeling of raw need passing between their bodies. Sharpe's warm breath tickled her ears and heated the back of her neck. She shuddered.
Sharpe would have Helene right then and there if he could of, French patrol or no French patrol. He wanted to toss up her skirts and have her that very instant. He resisted the urge knowing that if he did so they would be captured by the French and thus jeopardzing the entire mission he had been entrusted with.
Sharpe paused once more before moving on eavesdropping on the patrol. Satisfied the French were too involved to notice them Sharpe waved the trio forward. Reluctantly Sharpe released his hold on Helene, but gave her another long hard warning look. Stealthily they made their way through the frosty vegetation. Their blood pounding in their ears and sweat rolling down their bodies.
Helene knew it would be so easy to simply scream and bring the French soldiers down upon Sharpe. One little squeak and she could have Sharpe captured. Of course she reasoned she would be captured herself and in the company of a British officer no less. So she remained silent and followed Sharpe. With the knowledge that with Ducos running a good many French operations at the moment she was far safer with the British Army. They at least might offer her freedom and her possessions in exchange for information on Ducos' plans. She was only too willing to help topple Ducos. She had a score with him she meant to settle.
Each step the trio took was placed with careful precision, avoiding any large twigs that might snap under their weight and betray their presence. Sharpe's breath came in irregular gasps as he focused on leading the group around the patrol. Every French voice that carried to his ear made his heart race with the fear that they had been heard despite their precautions.
They had just completed half of the box around the patrol and Sharpe was ready to release a half sigh of relief when the sounds of approaching horses reached their ears. Sharpe and Harper looked to one another for confirmation. Each hoping that they had imagined the thumping of hooves and cling clang of metal spurs.
"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!" Harper muttered as the pungent smell of garlic and saddle rot mixed with the approaching animal sounds.
"Christ, we were half way there!" Sharpe cursed.
"Ya gonna try and bluff 'em, Sir?" Harper asked.
"What choice have we?" Sharpe said coldly knowing the events about to follow would either save or cost them their lives. "Just be ready, Pat," he ordered.
Harper nodded tightening his grip on the seven-barrelled gun.
Sharpe felt minimally better. He knew he could depend on Harper as he could any of his Chosen Men, but Harper in particular was especially loyal and dangerous in a fight. The big Irishman became possessed, an unstoppable force.
"Not a word out of ya!" Sharpe growled to Helene.
Helene looked at him with almost royal indifference to his order. Her time in royal courts of Europe and as a spy had taught her well how to mask any emotions regardless of what they were. But there wasn't anyone who could teach you to banish the fear and anxiety clutching at your stomach and spinning frightening scenarios in the back of your mind. You could conceal your feelings from your enemies, friends, and even lovers, but never from yourself. Helene tried to calm her inside to match her outward appearance of cool confidence.
Sharpe made sure he was standing next to Helene. As the four mounted French soldiers came into view he shot her one last threatening stare. She flung her blonde curls his direction with a confident toss of her head.
The lead officer jerked backed on his horses reigns suddenly bringing his mount to an abrupt stop. Surprised by the sudden stop the soldiers behind him did the same, much to the irritation of their mounts.
"Good day," Sharpe called in French. He thought it would be best to get the first word in.
Startled to hear French coming from the unexpected stranger the Major returned the greeting, "Good day. Where are you headed?"
"San Maria, we're in search of work," Sharpe said trying to make his voice sound light and easy.
"Why do you need work?" asked the Major reaching up to stroke his dark wiry moustache.
Sharpe could read the unease in the man's stance. He chanced a quick glance at the other three soldiers. All were back behind the Major, but alert. "Our farm and home was destroyed. We thought there might be work in San Maria," Sharpe lied.
"And who are these two people with you?" the Major asked eyeing Harper and Helene with doubtful scrutiny.
Bugger all! This wasn't going well Sharpe thought. He might as well as try to convince the French Major he was Father Christmas rather then a simple peasant. Might be more successful too he ventured.
"This is my wife," he said gesturing to Helene, "and this is mybrother," he tried pointing to Harper.
Harper flashed his best Irish grin at the Major when he looked his way. Harper tried to figure out what the hell Sharpe was telling the Major. Whatever load of blarney Mr. Sharpe was shovelling it was clear even to Harper that the French Major wasn't buying it.
Helene meantime had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. Sharpe might be the king of the battlefield, but when it came to out and out lying he was the court jester. To anyone with eyes Sharpe and Harper looked about as related as a thoroughbred and a plough horse.
Then again Helene thought it was refreshing to be around a man who didn't lie for a living or otherwise. He was so unlike the men who graced the royal courts. Lies and deceit were a way a life, it was little wonder Helene had fallen into spying.
With Sharpe though you always knew where you stood or in her case lay. Despite his earlier coarseness towards her given a chance Helene knew Sharpe would pick up right where they had left off last night. With some difficulty she switched her attention back to the French Major still before her.
The Major's dark eyes narrowed as he studied a scruffy looking Harper, who shifted uncomfortably. Harper sneaked an alarmed look at Sharpe.
"I think you had better come with us," the Major ordered more than asked.
"Why? We haven't done anything wrong," Sharpe tried to protest hoping to avoid any sort of barney. They were far enough away from the rest of the patrol that it would take the patrol several moments before they realised what was happening to their fellow soldiers. Let alone to get their mounts and arrive. Still that time wasn't much.
"Pat," Sharpe said quietly.
Harper didn't move, but Sharpe knew his Sargent had heard him. He could see his muscles tighten and ready for battle.
"You will come with us," the Major ordered dispensing with the previous pleasantries.
Sharpe let his head fall forward as if in defeat. It was then that the Major made a grievous error. He turned his back to Sharpe to say something to his men. As soon as he did Sharpe shouted, "Now!"
With that Sharpe and Harper each fired a shot. Sharpe's took down the Major and Harper's the man behind him. The blast from Harper's gun echoed across the once silent morning forest.
Both men toppled from their horses and hit the cold forest floor already dead. It was then that Sharpe got his biggest surprise. Helene grabbed a large leafy branch from the ground and began swinging it wildly in front of the two riderless mounts, which reared up spooking the other two soldiers horses. Knowing that the shots and commotion had to have alerted the rest of the patrol Sharpe grabbed Helene's arm. "Come on!" he shouted dragging her.
The trio was about to run deeper into the forest until Sharpe spotted the other two officers, now fully in command of their mounts coming at them. "Shite! Other way!" he yelled. He spun around instantly reaching out to grab Helene and whip her around with him.
Branches and bramble alike viciously tore at their clothes tearing holes in it and leaving cuts and scrapes on any skin they touched. A blur of dull green and brown rushed by them as they ran. Their earlier chilliness disappeared as they drove their muscles forward unrelentingly.
The barren branches and thorns stung them, but they kept running. The stings would be minor compared to a French sword ripping its way across their flesh. Sharpe was at least partially protected by his sturdy leather jacket. Helene, in contrast, was leaving behind a trail of tiny shreds of lace underskirts, which caught in low growing bushes and ripped away as she ran. Her legs were scratched and bled as she pulled up her dress and ran in the most unladylike manner.
As they kept running they could tell the forest was thinning away. Beams of sunlight lit the icy air. The hard forest floor was slowly becoming grass, making it more difficult to keep up their speed.
"That's the field, Sir," Harper said in a worried pant.
"No choice," Sharpe answered, nearly out of breath himself. His leg had begun to throb, but he ran through the agony.
Already they could hear the pounding of hooves behind them. With every step they took the pounding seemed to grow louder and closer.
"Youre a lousy liar, Richard!" Helene gasped, angry for having to run for her life like a hunted animal.
"Well, I 'aven't 'ad a lifetime of practice like ya 'ave! " 'Ow could I compete with ya?" he shot back.
"They're gainin'!" Harper called interrupting their row. The forest was about to break away into an open rolling field, where they would be easy targets for the cavalry soldiers.
"I'll loop around and draw some of 'em away," Harper shouted as he broke off away from Sharpe to do just that.
"Harper! Harper!" Sharpe shouted angrily. Knowing that Harper had made up his mind to draw the French's attention so he could escape. Sharpe angrily led Helene out of the forest and into the field cursing his friend's stupidity and immeasurable loyalty.
The sunlight momentarily blinded them, but they didn't stop. When Sharpe looked behind him he saw there were five horses behind them. "Faster!" he ordered Helene.
Her chest burned as she gasped for air. Still she followed Sharpe's shout and ordered her legs faster. From the scratches and pounding run her legs felt like they were on fire. Flames coursed from her feet through her caves upward to her knees and up her thighs. Sharpe himself was struggling trying to outrun cavalry troops. He saw their narrow lead being shortened by the second. If they didn't get away soon Sharpe knew they would be cut down like a scythe through grain.
When he turned back to look to the front he nearly stopped frozen in place. Before him was an enormous royal blue coloured floating globe. Long ropes hung like snakes off it and giant wicker basket was tied underneath the globe. Sharpe could see and smell the foul black smoke coming from it drifting its way across the field towards him.
"A balloon Richard," Helene cried with relief.
A balloon. They really existed Sharpe thought. He had heard rumours of the floating contraptions, even saw a drawing of one once in a book Major Hogan had. It had seemed so unbelievable that a giant sphere that could raise a man up to the clouds. He had never really believed they could exist, until now.
"No balloons," Sharpe protested. As amazing as he thought the balloon was he certainly didnt want to try it out himself. Just sitting on top of horses made him made him uncomfortable and this was hundreds of time higher than any horse.
Frantically he searched the field hoping there was some other miraculous option. Instead he saw nothing but empty dead field beaten down all around them, miles of pale dull yellow crops. They were hung over offering no hope of protection from the French.
He chanced another look over his shoulder. Now the French were nearly upon them. Their swords were drawn and they were baring down on their mounts. To fight them was to die and even a balloon was preferable to death Sharpe decided, though not by much.
"Head for the balloon," he shouted knowing the balloon offered their only hope of survival.
Sharpe needn't have told Helene. She would have went for the balloon with or without Sharpe. Adrenaline urging her on Helene struggled to catch up to Sharpe who was several yards ahead of her.
Hearing the commotion coming toward him a young handsome French officer peered out from behind the balloon basket. Before he had a chance to move out of the thick smoke and see what the commotion was all about Sharpe appeared out of the black smoke like some dark warrior. Whether it was Sharpes sudden appearance or his fierce look the frightened French soldier began yelling in terror at Sharpe.
Without a thought Sharpe was on top of him and threw one hard punch, which knocked the officer out cold. His limp unconscious body fell to the ground with a soft thud.
Simultaneously, a dark haired Spanish woman from inside the basket screamed. Her overly endowed features strained against her low-cut tight fitting bodice. Sharpe took her to be a whore from some near by town and one with a very healthy set of lungs if the volume of her screams were anything to go by. She flailed her arms about her uselessly swatting at Sharpe. Her wild swipes failed to come anywhere near Sharpe. "Beggin' yer pardon," he called as he plucked her from the basket just as Helene caught up with him.
"They're coming!" she wheezed.
Unceremoniously Sharpe scooped Helene up and dumped her in the basket. "Ow!" she cried as her bottom hit the floor of the basket with a loud thud.
Without thinking Sharpe followed her jumping into the basket. Drawing his sword he hacked at the ropes that kept them tied to the ground. As he cut the last rope away the French cavalry caught up with them, but they were seconds to late.
By cutting the ropes Sharpe had begun to send the balloon aloft into the early morning sky. He gripped the basket edge until his knuckles turned white. Below him he could see the French troops beginning to growing smaller and smaller as the balloon rose higher. For a man who hated to even be sitting on a horse a balloon was not the ideal place. However, he was happy to be away from the French who angrily waved their useless swords in the air at him.
Watching the horses shrink to the size of a child's toy his heart thudded erratically in his chest. He could feel the sweat on the palms of his hands and running down his back. A sick buzzing feeling swept through his brain and for a second he thought he was going to be ill.
Sharpe would have preferred being on a battle to fleeing in a balloon. In a battle he was on the ground and had control. "It's worse than bein' on a bloody horse," he swore as he tried to steady himself.
Helene laughed behind him, her voice light as the air around them and with a hint of harmony.
Sharpe turned around to face her through the smoke drifting up from the tall metal bucket in the centre of the basket. The floating dark curtain obscured Helene from Sharpe's view. Sharpe tentatively moved a few steps outside the smoke's reach.
"We're perfectly safe, Richard," she smiled sensing his discomfort.
Sharpe doubted her assessment of their situation. Still it was the first time he had ever seen her smile. Her honeysuckle lips curved up in pleasure. The simple gesture of her smile showed Sharpe Helene's elegant beauty previously unseen by his eyes. He knew she was a pretty woman even behind the drab nunnery outfit she was forced to wear. But now with a smile lighting her face and the soft pink light of the dawn shinning over her unruly blonde curls he was struck by her natural beauty.
In the sparse clouds around them two doves circled the balloon. Their white wings stretched each reaching out for the other. Their wings grazed the frothy swirls of the clouds. Their cries of love and longing to one another echoed in the cool empty air around them.
Sharpe and Helene shared the morning sky with the winged lovers hovering around them. They stared at the floating world around them, together two solitary pairs of lovers. Sharpe forced his eyes down to the bucket in the centre of the basket ending the moment. "Christ!" he muttered at the stench from the fire. He had a mind to pitch the bloody thing over the side.
Helene watched him studying the bucket. "The worse the smell the better the smoke," she said.
"The better?" he asked not quite understanding.
"The smoke; it's how the balloon stays up in the air. The worse the smell the better the smoke they say," she explained.
"And who are they?" he asked.
"Oh, the men who invented the balloon I guess," she shrugged.
Sharpe looked up into the paper and silk blue orb 100 meters in diameter above them and considered this. Sinister looking dark curls of black smoke twisted and snaked their way into the opening above their head. In the bucket in between the flames Sharpe saw what he thought was an old shoe, some hay, bits of rubbish, and rotting meat. Along with some other items he was sure he would rather not know about.
"At least they didn't use dung," Helene said peering into the bucket herself.
Sharpe starred at her disbelievingly. He had spent all of his adult life in the Army. He had lived on battlefields where the smelled of death and smoke clung to your skin so much you thought you might never rid yourself of it. And he had marched through muck that seeped so far into your pores that you thought you might bleed brown if wounded. When you were finally able to wash the water would turn brown time and time again. He had smelled worse than any stable hand ever had and even he couldn't imagine the thought or the stench of burning dung for smoke.
"How do ya know so much about 'em?" Sharpe asked her.
"I am a spy, remember?" she replied.
No, no he hadn't remembered until she reminded him Sharpe realised. He almost wished she hadn't. Up in the clouds the British Army and Napoleon seemed so far away and removed from them. Up here the limitations of rank and money was worlds away.
"I remember," he said plainly.
Chancing a look down Sharpe could see what he knew to be great towering trees the size of twigs. Homes no bigger than pebbles and the countryside cut into squares like a giant chessboard, which is what Napoleon had turned Europe into.
"Ya could see an entire army from up here," Sharpe said.
"What else would they be used for?" Helene said with a knowing smile.
Sharpe frowned, but decided to ignore Napoleon's sinister use of the balloon and instead take in the beauty below him. Gentle rolling greenish brown hills like waves stretched out endlessly towards the horizon. On the ground what had looked to be the dead colours of winter came to life to as they looked down from the sky above. He could see the lined ground where crops had been planted in neat rows decorating the patches of Earth.
Sharpe tried to determine which direction they were moving, but couldn't. Perhaps west, he thought. There wasn't any sense of movement to go by only the softly passing land far below them.
Sharpe looked around the basket, unsure of what he was looking for, something, anything that might control the direction they were travelling.
"How do ya control this thing?" he asked seeing nothing in the basket that looked helpful.
"You don't, the wind does," Helene answered.
"Ya mean whatever way the wind blows is the way we go?" Sharpe asked irritated.
"Basically," Helene said.
"Bugger all!" Sharpe swore. Leave it to Boney to use a contraption that took the rider whatever way the wind blew at any given moment. At least a horse had reins he conceded. Still he had to give the French credit for the wonderous view.
Another thought suddenly occurred to Sharpe, "How do we get this thing down if we can't steer it?" he asked trying not to show his concern. The thought of drifting through the clouds indefinitely caused his stomach to clutch in if not fear a least a serious case of worry.
"We'll land when the smoke runs out," Helene said.
"Ya sure?" Sharpe asked sceptically.
"Don't you trust me, Richard?" Helene asked her blue eyes hidden by long spikey lashes.
"Why should I?" he snorted.
"I could have had you captured when we went by that first French patrol earlier down there and I didn't," she told him.
"And why was that?" he asked curiously acknowledging that she very well could have brought the larger patrol down upon them.
"Don't think it was for any great love for you," she told him tartly. If Sharpe wanted to be catty she could give as good as she received.
"I wouldn't dream of it Marquesa," he retorted cockily, "But I would dream of other things," he added in a low seductive voice.
A streak of desire of lighting proportions shot through Helene as her eyes met Sharpe's. Struggling to regain her earlier coldness towards Sharpe she replied, "It was my hide as well as yours that's all."
"But yer French," he reminded her, "unless ya double crossed them too," he jabbed smugly.
"More like double crossed by; Ducos," she said biting off the French spymaster's name. "The whole reason I signed that letter accusing you was his doing," she told Sharpe.
"Oh it were him were it?" he mocked her. "And ya went right along with him," Sharpe snarled angrily.
"With threat to my life, yes," Helene said without remorse for escaping from Ducos' clutches.
"Ducos is one of yer own," Sharpe reminded her.
"Ducos is self-serving evil bastard, who is only interested in his scrounging up as much power as he can, for himself," she spat.
"And ya aren't?" Sharpe countered.
"I've profited from the war, yes, but so have you. Quite a rise through the ranks you've made," she pointed out. "Do you think you'd be there without this war?" she asked him with cool insight.
Sharpe's face hardened. He knew at least part of what she said was true. "Aye, I benefited, but honestly," he pointed out.
"There's nothing honest about war, never has been, never will be," Helene said her voice filled with both sadness and hard reality. "We've both committed sins in the name of our country's causes, but as horrible as you think I am I'm nowhere near the monster Ducos is," Helene said smiling coldly at him.
Sharpe said nothing.
Ducos was coiled vicious viper who slithered around waiting to strike when an opportunity presented itself. Friend or foe it mattered little to him, if he thought them a danger or he could gain something from them he struck with his own particular brand of venom.
Sharpe pulled out his precious brass telescope from a pouch hung on his belt. Carefully he extended the sections snapping them into place. His long fingers caressed the inscription plate as he brought the glass up to his eye. Squinting with one eye he looked down at the land below him.
The telescope had always fascinated him the way even from far above the ground the shaped glass could make objects and people appear to be right in front of you.
"What are you looking for?" Helene asked breaking into Sharpe's thoughts.
"French soldiers, some land formation to tell me where we are," he replied still squinting away.
"Where did you get the telescope from?" she asked eyeing the expensive tool.
Sharpe lowered the glass and carefully began to compress the sections back together. "It were a gift," he said staring at the inscription plate.
Helene eyed him curiously. "From who?" she asked.
"General Wellesley," he answered replacing the telescope in its pouch.
"Why would he give you something like that?" she asked thinking it odd that an upstart rifleman would get such an expensive give and from the General of the Army no less.
"He thought I saved his life. He said he wanted ta thank me," Sharpe said modestly. He purposely left out the part about the general being chased by three mounted French soldiers and him taking all three of them down in under a minute.
Helene smiled knowing there was more to the story than Sharpe was telling.
Sharpe looked at Helene with her finely sculpted aristocratic features. She was like a nymph with long graceful limbs and tumbling blonde ringlets of captured sunlight lying across her shoulders and pouring down her back. Unlike the innocent nymphs however, Helene had far too many curves, more than one woman should ever be allowed to possess.
Ducos she was not. She was dangerous and not to be trusted Sharpe well knew. However, she had helped him escape from the French patrol. Even if it was partially self-serving on her part. She could have had him captured or tried to escape from him at the very least. Sharpe made up his mind up about Helene at that exact moment.
"What's this?" Sharpe asked his voice softening as he crossed the basket in three easy steps. He barely brushed Helene as he moved around her.
Helene shrugged as Sharpe moved past her. She noticed a sudden change in him. He was softer somehow. The slight contact between them reminded her how handsome the English Rifleman was, as if she needed reminding.
Despite their shared contact the basket was surprisingly quite roomy, except one had to manoeuvre around the smoke bucket in the centre. But besides keeping them aloft the heat from the smoke warmed them in the chilly air.
In the corner next to Helene Sharpe picked up a small, but heavy basket. Pulling back the thick cloth covering it he found an array of cheese, thick fresh bread and a bottle of champagne, complete with glasses.
"Well, well what have we here?" Sharpe grinned. Until he saw the basket full of food Sharpe hadn't realised how hungry he was. His stomach grumbled anxiously.
Sharpe pulled out the glasses and handed them to Helene. "Might as well enjoy it," he said.
"Why not?" Helene agreed with a hint of something more in her husky voice.
Carefully and effortlessly Sharpe dislodged the cork from the champagne bottle. He poured the pale bubbly liquid into the glasses as Helene held them. Setting the bottle down he took one of the glasses from Helene. Both of them sipped easily at the sweet golden liquid.
"Awfully fancy food," Sharpe remarked as he dug out the bread and cheese and passed some to Helene.
Hungrily they feasted upon the rich delights of the basket. The soft fresh bread tasting like the finest delicacy ever to their starved palettes.
"Wonder what that our friend had in mind with all this?" Sharpe grinned wickedly.
"Probably exactly what your thinking he had," Helene remarked as she savoured every bite of the cheese. "Have to always carry champagne though," Helene said between mouthfuls.
"Why's that?" Sharpe asked swallowing a bite of cheese himself.
"The farmers," she said popping another hunk of bread into her mouth.
"Farmers?" he asked trying to make the connection between the balloon, champagne, and farmers.
"Mmmmhhhh, They'd be frightened of the balloons when the balloons would land in a field, so the pilots would give them a bottle of champagne as a gesture of friendship," she explained.
"And if they didn't have any to give?" Sharpe asked curiously.
"I heard the farmers sometimes attacked the balloon, with pitch forks or whatever they had. Thought it was alive and would try to kill it, sometimes the pilot too," she said. "Would drag it behind a horse," she added pausing to take a long drink from her glass.
"Drag the pilot or the balloon?" Sharpe remarked jokingly.
Helene thought for a moment, "Usually the balloon, but maybe the pilot sometimes too," she smiled.
Sharpe laughed imaging the sight of irate French peasants attacking a balloon as if it were a fire breathing dragon. Though that's just might what they have thought it was with all the black smoke coming from it. It certainly did look ominous.
Though the idea of buying complacency with liqueur wasn't new. Hell, the British Army invoked that practise daily rationing every man a pint of rum.
"Look out there," Helene said pointing towards the now rising sun.
Sharpe looked up from refilling their glasses. The first golden rays lit up the sky in every direction. A flaming halo rose to bask the land in the beams of purity. The entire world looked like a city of gold. The clouds sparkled as if they had been illuminated with a lining of gold dust.
"It can't be real," Sharpe murmured mesmerised by the site.
The few patches of fog left below them began to melt away as the beams touched them one by one like a magic wand.
Sharpe didn't know if it was the champagne or the height they were travelling at, but when he looked back at Helene she and the balloon glowed like a heavenly angel. Radiating golden light enfolding him and the clouds in an ethereal world.
Sharpe half expected to see Saint Peter any second standing before the gates to heaven. "Ya don't see Saint Peter anywhere do ya?" Sharpe quipped.
"It's like being in heaven isn't it?" she breathed.
"Might be as close as we ever get," Sharpe said absently.
Helene shivered as she took another long drink from her glass.
"Cold?" Sharpe asked.
"A little," she admitted.
"Here," he said taking off his leather jacket. "It's not much,"
"Thank you," she said quietly slipping into the jacket. It had the rich smell of worn leather and the scent of the man who wore it. An earthy musk scent filled her nostrils. She pulled the jacket closer trying to pull with it the heat from Sharpe's body that had just warmed it.
"Why does Ducos hates you so much?" she asked reflecting upon her part in Sharpe's 'death.' "Not that it takes much for Ducos to hate anyone," she remarked.
"I got the better of him once, guess he hasn't yet forgiven me fer it," he answered modestly. "And what about ya, packin' ya off ta convent ya can't be a favourite of his either," Sharpe said.
"No I'm not. Ducos hates women, all women," she said thoughtfully. After a long pause she aid thickly, "you don't though," her lips half parted.
"Nay, I don't hate women," he whispered roughly. The inches separating them collapsed as Sharpe cupped Helene's face between his hands. His hands were rough, but had a gentleness to them. They were the hands of a man who worked. His long fingers slowly eased their way over her cheek. They left a trail of warmth in their path erasing the earlier coolness Helene had felt. With agonising slowness he lowered his mouth to hers.
His lips were surprisingly soft and warm. They moved over Helene's with a firm gentleness. In his kiss she could taste the sweet traces of the champagne on Sharpe's lips. Helene reached up and drew Sharpe closer towards her.
His lips easily coaxed hers further apart and his tongue slipped inside the warm recesses of her mouth. Boldly her own tongue snaked out to whisk it's way over Sharpe's. His tongue swept past the hard pearls of her teeth tickling her sensitive mouth.
"Just what do you think you're doing?" Helene gasped as she felt Sharpe's hands skimming across her body. It felt like his hands were everywhere at once setting off rippling tingles of desire.
"If I'm gonna be accused and hung for havin' compromised ya then I might as well have done it," he said his voice thick with desire and truth.
Before Helene could reply Sharpe's mouth covered hers again. The heat of his desire took hold and quickly spread through her, starting with her lips. The barriers erected between them by war crumbled a little further with each touch. Sharpe forgot about Helene nearly having him hung, forgot about Ducos, and pushed the troubles of the British Army far from his mind.
Sharpe's arms circled Helene and pulled her body into his. He savoured the feel of her soft womanly curves in contrast to the long hard muscles of his own body. His fingers pulled through her tangle of hair, enjoying the silky feeling between his fingers. Helene arched her head backwards showering Sharpe's hands with spirals of gold. Her lips tipped up towards his inviting his to return to the honeyed sweetness of her kisses.
Their lips met. The light brushing kisses of earlier were replaced by firm pressure of demanding need. As she leaned into Sharpe's kiss pressing her lips more fully into Sharpe's she reached up to brush away a stray lock of his hair that fell across his forehead. She brushed the lock aside that sought to hide his eyes awash with deep swirls of green like the sea during a torrid storm.
His eyes met hers. Each reading the maelstrom of emotions in the other as only lovers can. "Why did ya do that," he asked.
"I wanted to see you, Richard," she answered softly. "The real you."
"Just see?" he asked in a wicked sexy whisper.
"And feel," she said her voice rich with wanting as she stared openly into Sharpe's eyes.
"Then ya shall," he groaned reaching inside his leather coat Helene wore and began to stroke her body through her dress.
Helene made a little unconscious moan of pleasure encouraging Sharpe to continue. She reached out to Sharpe and ran her hands over his shoulders and down his muscular arms exploring the rolling topography of strength. Even through his shirt she could feel the ridges and bumps of his scars spread over his back. She shuddered at the unimaginable pain Sharpe must have gone through.
Sharpe nipped at Helene's neck his teeth and tongue lightly teasing while his hands roamed over her breasts. Through her thin dress and chesamine he felt her nipples harden begging for the touch of his hands and lips.
He stopped suddenly as he felt Helene's touch reach the disfiguring scars on his back. He hadn't realised he was holding his breath until he let out a small sigh of relief as he felt her wandering touch move lower to his buttocks.
Sharpe had long been used to the scars so much so he often forgot about them being there. Though he never forgot and would forget about the injustice or the men who had spawned the criss-cross of tentacle arms across his back. But he was always reminded of the stigma the branding tentacles brought when he was with a woman. Fellow soldiers understood what the scars meant and there was never a need to explain their presence. Women, however, were afraid and didn't understand. Having to explain to them how he an innocent man had been flogged by vicious cruel officers was like reliving the entire experience over and over again. Women always avoided touching them, some were even repulsed by them.
Sharpe locked the memories of the past in a room in the back of his mind and instead concentrated his efforts on the present. The scars would always be with him, but this moment would not. He turned his mind back to Helene and let his desire for her cloud over the painful memories of a past that could never be changed. He could feel himself hardening and growing more impatient as Helene caresses wound their way from the backside of his trousers to the front.
Helene soon found the muscles of his thighs weren't the only thing that was hard. Through the course material she stroked the area where she knew Sharpe's manhood lay just hidden from her touch.
Sharpe groaned aloud, "Helene."
"Richard," she returned as she felt the buttons at the top of her dress being pulled open. "Touch me," she breathed.
Sharpe easily obliged her slipped the black buttons open one by one with agonising slowness. Helene tried to help him hurry, but he brushed her hands aside determined to pleasure her at his own pace. He pushed the leather jacket from her shoulders and pushed back the opening of the top of her dress.
Above the delicate white lace of her chesamine lay the swell of her full creamy breasts. Sharpe skimmed a hand over them and felt Helene quiver in response. He smiled sensing her pleasure and hunger for him. Reaching down his cupped her breasts through the lace. He felt the soft rounded weight of them and longed to explore them with his mouth.
Helene grasped his arms and brought him in closer and stronger to her body. With one quick pull Sharpe released the satin ribbon that had bared him from the creamy softness of her breasts. He took the lace confines and carelessly shoved them aside. Helene thought she might burn through her clothes and the balloon's basket straight down into hell. Her body shamelessly craved Sharpe and when his lips met her fully exposed breasts a primitive moan was torn from her kiss swollen lips.
Sharpe's kisses over her breasts quickly turned to a finely tuned mixture of bites, kisses, and caresses by his tongue. His tongue circled her rose coloured nipples like a predator. He teased and taunted his prey never giving a hint of when he would move in and capture it for his own.
Helene's cries were unintelligible by now. His tongue flicked over her nipples hardening them ever further. When Helene thought she might die of pleasure with the quickness of a wolf Sharpe moved in with one smooth movement and took her nipple into his mouth. The tormented wait had Helene moaning with relief. Sharpe sucked and lavished pleasure upon her breasts.
Helene's fingers buried in Sharpe's blonde locks pulled him tightly to her breast. Understanding her need Sharpe increased his pressure and lightly bit at her nipples. It was the most sensual torture she had ever experienced.
Anxious to return the pleasure Helene pulled Sharpe's trousers down freeing him. Her warm hands stroked his engorged flesh. Cupping him she rubbed her hands rhythmically over him.
Sharpe's eyes closed as he surrendered himself to the pleasure of Helene's touch. How he had missed the touch and feel of a woman's body. The softness and beauty it offered was something that had been missing from his life for so long.
When her soft hand closed around him and squeezed he thought he might come right then. Her touch varied taunting him from soft feathery strokes to a firm squeezing possessive hold. "Jesus," he moaned. Sharpe wanted to feel Helene's body right then. He wanted to bury himself in her silken body.
The heat from his body and the feel of Sharpe's hardness beneath her hands had Helene recklessly craving to feel Sharpe inside her.
Giving a quick look around the balloon Sharpe turned Helene around. He jerked up the tattered skirts that made up her dress. Between the ripped lace he was just barely conscious enough to notice the bloody scratches covering Helene's legs. Without a word he lowered himself and began to kiss the stinging red cuts and scraps covering her legs.
Helene surprised by his gentleness could do nothing, but allow him to continue. His warm pink tongue traced a path over the scratches up her calves and up to the unmarked flesh of her thighs.
"What happened?" Sharpe asked looking up at her with emotion filled green eyes.
"Running through the forest," she somehow managed to find the words and put them in the correct order. Her mind had sunk into a world of pleasure were only she and Richard existed. Only a tiny sliver of her mind was still coherent enough to understand and reply to Sharpe's question.
A pang of anger hit Sharpe. He wasn't sure who it was directed at. He knew that they had to run and that the French had to chase them. It was the law of the situation. Still it didn't make it any easier to know Helene had suffered.
He thought he once might have felt some satisfaction to know that she had been forced to suffer just as he had by being stripped of his rank and condemned to death. Now, however, he knew her. It was so much easier to hate a faceless emotionless enemy he never knew than a woman with a name, a beautiful face, and story behind her. It was like the Army referring to the French as frogs. It was a lot easier to kill something you regarded as an animal rather than a human being.
Sharpe caressed Helene's thighs. He straighten up she leaned back into him for support as his hands remained under her skirts. "I need ya," he rasped into Helene's ear. His teeth biting her ear lobe and sucking as his heavy breath tickled her ears.
Helene moaned her enthusiastic response as she felt Sharpe's erection pressing into her backside. She knew this had been the moment they had been leading up to all morning. She had sensed it when Sharpe had held her to him like this earlier in the forest and she was anxious for the culmination of their joining.
Easily she leaned forward to grip the edge of the basket. Sharpe yanked up the rest of her skirts out of the way. His hands gripped her waist pulling her body towards his as he smoothly entered her.
Both gasped and struggled for control of their bodies. Sharpe pulled her bottom in closer to him burring himself as deeply as possible in the velvet warmth of Helene. Tiny squeaks of pleasure floated out into the air from Helene. The air, the view, the sun all was lost to them as they became consumed by each other.
Helene revelled in the feel of Sharpe's hardness filling her body. As he began to move she was over come by a feeling of emptiness as he withdrew only to feel whole again when he thrust forward. She craved the sensation of Sharpe's hardness tightly pressing up into her.
Sharpe's hands dug into her waist as his first few gentle strokes increased. Helene leaned her body back as far as she could wanting to capture every inch of him. As Sharpe's thrusts increased Helene's fingers turned white as she gripped the basket edge in order to stay up right. Both their breaths came in desperate jagged pants.
Sharpe moved his hands up from Helene's waist to roughly cup her bare breasts as he continued to hurry them towards the inevitable climax of their joining. Helene could feel the snug hardness of Sharpe laying siege to her body.
Finally unable to hold out another moment longer Helene cried out giving herself up to Sharpe. Sharpe feeling the spasms of release over taking Helene immediately grabbed her hips and drove himself into her hard following her over the edge to a frenzied out pouring of release. He held her body tightly against his as he rode the tide of bodily surrender.
Sharpe slumped over Helene. His chin resting on her shoulder. They stayed there as their consciousness slowly parted the mists of passion that had bewildered and bewitched it.
Neither Sharpe or Helene said a word. Both were too moved by what had just transpired between them to find any words that might begin to describe its what it meant.
To Helene the sky was as close as she could get to describing her emotions. "It's amazing isn't it?" she asked her voice softer than a whisper.
Sharpe nodded as he watched the kaleidoscope of pastel colours flash and blend around them. He was so enthralled in the mysterious art before him failed to notice that the balloon was slowly sinking.
It was only as the trees limbs stretched higher, reaching closer and closer to the basket did Sharpe notice that the balloon was slowly sinking. It was sinking back to the endless land below and to everything that came with the land, life, love, and war.
"We're landing," Sharpe said.
Helene nodded. How she wished she could stay in the clouds forever to live in their softness and beauty. The sun would light her days and the stars and moon her lantern at night.
Sharpe's thoughts were similar to Helene's. Somehow he had thought he'd be much happier about landing and getting back to being in control. Though he had begun to doubt if he really did have control anywhere or if it was just an illusion.
Soon the basket was beginning to brush the treetops as it descended. The branches scraped and rocked the basket.
"Hold on," called Helene who gripped the basket and braced herself for a bumpy landing.
Sharpe on the opposite side did the same. The combination of their low height and a random clump of trees punctured a section of the balloon. Both heard the tearing and a giant hiss like a great dragon.
Sharpe's curses were drown out as the balloon dropped to Earth in a bumping, tumbling fall. Helene and Sharpe shouted as they were thrown about wildly.
The balloon and basket finally came to a halt near a road and in a parcel of open land. The bone-jarring landing had tossed both Sharpe and Helene out of the basket and left them lying under the now deflated balloon. The rich blue silk was torn to shreds and lying flat on the ground resembled a mirage of a pool of water.
"Major, look!" shouted one of the French soldiers.
The Major turned upon his horse to look in the direction his soldier was pointing. What in God's name he wondered. He called his men to a halt and debated what to do for a moment.
Technically, he hadn't to do anything. He had been ordered to move his men to San Maria and serve Major Ducos. He didn't like the idea of working for the spymaster. Dirty dealings and trickery wasn't his business. He was a soldier, a soldier who belonged on the battlefield defending his emperor and his country.
He sighed feeling he was wasting his time by going to San Maria. He was already wondering what battle he was missing out on, even though it was unlikely that a battle had yet taken place in his short absence.
He stared at the blue pool as it slowly dawned on him that it wasn't a pool at all. He wondered. There had been many balloon flights in the area trying to get a better idea of Wellington's capabilities. One could have gone down. He looked at the sun. It was already mid day. The balloon must have been there since at least dawn if not dusk yesterday. He made his decision.
"Lt. Rochefort, take four other men with you and go inspect the area. The rest of us will wait here," the Major ordered.
Lt. Rochefort gave a smart salute as he called on several other men to accompany him.
The men grumbled thinking it fool's errand. Still they did as they were told tromping the short way across the field to the downed balloon. Shreds of blue silk fluttered in the breeze like wild tentacles.
They poked and prodded half-heartedly. Some of the men who had lived in Paris had seen balloons before. This wasn't the first one they had heard of crashing. Some of the men from the countryside however were more fascinated. They took a keen interest balloon.
The men kicked and fought with the material while the Major and the rest of his men looked on from the road. The Major shifted in his saddle growing impatient. "Anything?" he called.
Lt. Rochefort was about to walk forward and tell the Major that there was nothing here when he tripped on a hard clump of silk. There were a few chuckles and snorts from the men however, no one was laughing when Rochefort pulled back the blue cover to reveal a man. At the same time a few feet further away another man found another body, this of a woman.
After checking that the two were alive the soldiers heft up the unconscious bodies and carried them back to the Major at the road. The woman he didn't recognise, although she was very beautiful. The man however, he knew in an instant was Major Richard Sharpe. He was a man the French Major could never forget or forgive.
The Major had been at Talavera the day Sharpe had won his Eagle and his promotion. He had been too far away to stop Sharpe. He had been forced to stand by and watch the Englishman claim and there-by desecrate the French Eagle.
An uncontrolled twitch of anger jumped in the Major's face. It was only momentary, but it struck like lighting in a drought stricken forest. Perhaps today is my lucky day thought the Major.
Sharpe and Helene's hands and legs were bound up and they were thrown over the supply mule the men had in tow with them. This meant that the supplies were divided up among the men to carry much to their complaint. The supply mule was moved up to the middle of the column in order to guard the prisoners in case they should happen to suddenly awaken and attempt to escape.
Sharpe and Helene jostled along on the mule. Sharpe partially awoke once to the stench of a mule and the world flipped totally upside down. Between the topsy-turvey view and his throbbing head Sharpe decided to surrender back into the world of oblivion. He would get where ever he was being taken anyway. It was better to rest now and save his strength for later when he might actually be able to do something about escaping.
It was late afternoon when the group arrived in San Maria. Sharpe had been slowly coming alert a couple miles outside of town, but continued to pretend to be unconscious, hoping he might be able to garner some bit of information as to his and Helene's fate.
The group stopped outside a small wooden house. The French Major had just ordered his men to take Sharpe and Helene away and secure them when he was ordered to stop.
Sharpe heard the voice and immediately recognised its owner, Major Ducos. Sharpe's blood nearly froze with anger. He struggled to remain lifeless. He heard the Major walk over to Ducos. He could hear them speaking, but not their words.
Helene was beginning to wake up and Sharpe nudged her to be quiet. Her movement ceased. Their eyes caught. Sharpe could see the icicles of fear forming and frosting over Helene's eyes.
Sharpe's attention was pulled back to Ducos. He could hear his ranting anger mixed with pauses of silence filled with what he knew was quiet seething rage. Sharpe and Helene were the last two people Ducos wanted to see.
Sharpe and Helene were dragged into the unadorned room and dropped in a pile on the hard wood floor. Helene moaned slightly.
"Very good, Major," Ducos said slightly more in control of himself.
"Yes, Sir," the Major said, but continued to stand before Ducos.
"Something else, Major?" Ducos asked coldly cleaning his tiny spectacles that usually hide his tiny ferret like eyes.
"Yes, Sir," replied the Major. "What do you plan to do with them; Sir?" he asked gesturing to Sharpe and Helene who still were lying in a tangled heap.
"You have some concern for their welfare?" Ducos sneered.
The major shook his head negatively, not looking at Ducos. Instead his eyes flitted around the room coming to rest on a ginger cat curled on a stack of books. "No, sir. It's just I know who that man is?" "And who is he Major?" Ducos asked as if he were talking to a simple child.
A log in the fireplace picked that moment to fall. The Major jumped startled by it. Ducos smiled coldly at him. "So who is he Major?" he repeated.
"He's a Captain in the British Army, Sharpe. I saw him take an eagle at Talavera," the Major replied not sure how to respond to the Spymaster's erratic mood swings.
The oil lamp on the table burned tossing shadows across the room and over Ducos. The Major didn't like the way Ducos looked in the dark. He was a short man, much shorter than the Major, but behind his round spectacles were coal black eyes. They frightened the Major. It was as if there was no light or emotion within them.
"He was a captain. He's since been promoted to Major," Ducos was forced to added with the knowledge part of the reason for Sharpe promotion could be attributed to the Rifleman out foxing Ducos. " And is it retribution you seek for the eagle?" asked Ducos.
"Yes, Sir." The Major said boldly.
"Do not worry. Major Sharpe will pay for his crimes against us, which are many. However, first he's going to tell me what I want to know," Ducos said narrowing his eyes and casting a menacing stare at a motionless Sharpe and Helene.
Harper quickened his step as the British Army's camp appeared before him. He was tired and his body ached, but he was anxious to see if Sharpe had return with the Marquesa.
He had tried to draw as many of the French away from Sharpe and Helene as he could, but he knew some of them had still gone after Sharpe. The Frenchmen who had chosen to track Harper through the woods were now dead.
Harper was better than anyone when it came to guerrilla fighting. He always knew how best to use the natural surroundings to his advantage. Sharpe liked to tease him it was all those years of thwarting the British Army in Ireland. And now he was using those skills to help the British Army.
Harper smiled to himself. Richard Sharpe was a good soldier, a good man, and good friend, even if he was an English bastard. The tents that made up the Army's camp grew closer and Harper could see the bustle of daily life in camp.
He headed straight to the Riflemen's camp as entered. He found Cooper, Harris, Hagman, and young Perkins all sitting cleaning their Baker rifles.
"Hey, Sarg. Where ya been?" called Perkins cheerily.
"Bit of an errand fer Major Hogan," Harper smiled wickedly. The lads whooped and laughed teasing Harper about just what type of "errand" he was doing for Major Hogan. Cooper asked if it had involved any of the Major's well-known Irish whiskey.
Harper welcomed the teasing and knew it meant that the lads were simply happy to see him. "Has Captain Sharpe come back?" he asked.
The banter and good nature ceased at once. Eyes saddened and smiles turned to frowns. They all looked down at their weapons helplessly not saying a word. Perkins looked on the verge of tears.
"Ya know they 'ung our Mr. Sharpe," Hagman said in a sad quiet voice.
"So he's not back?" Harper asked noticeably anxious.
They all shook their heads sadly in bewilderment thinking Harper must be taking Sharpe's death very hard thinking that he was going to come back.
"Shite!" Harper swore and he turned and ran off to find Major Hogan. Sharpe and Helene's route was shorter. They should have beaten Harper back to camp. There was only one reason why Harper would have arrived before they did. They had been captured.
After asking several soldiers Harper was finally able to locate Major Hogan's tent. Normally a sergeant from the ranks like Harper wouldn't be allowed to speak with the Major, but Major Hogan was far from normal. The Major had taken a keen interest and liking to Sharpe and his tough Irish Sargent.
Harper and the soldier outside the Major's tent were about to come to blows when the Major stepped out of his tent and ushered Harper in.
"Well Patrick what can I do fer ya?" smiled Hogan looking immaculate in his ever-present royal blue engineer's coat.
Harper briefly explained everything to Hogan from the Marquesa's rescue to being chased by the French patrol, to he and Sharpe splitting up.
Hogan's expression betrayed nothing. He simply nodded and made little noises that indicated he was paying attention, like "hmmmmm," and 'Mmmmmm."
"And how did the Marquesa take ta being spirited away by our Sharpe?" Hogan asked walking over to a table covered with maps.
"Oh, she seemed ta take ta just him fine, Sir," Harper answered trying to keep a straight face.
Hogan's dark eyes danced with mischievous delight. "And how did Sharpe find the Marquesa?" asked Hogan enjoying the game between himself and Harper.
"He was careful ta be right behind her at all times," Harper answered rolling his eyes upwards.
Hogan's laughter filled the tent. "But did he get the information we needed?" he asked becoming all business.
"I'm sure he did, Sir," Harper said hoping Sharpe did get the information the Major needed out of the Marquesa. Knowing Sharpe as he did Harper figured Sharpe already knew that and a lot more.
"So ya think Sharpe was captured?" asked Hogan.
"Seems likely, Sir," Harper answered.
"Ya known Sharpe could have been killed and the Marquesa along with him by dat French patrol?" Hogan said waiting for Harper's reaction.
"No, Sir," answered Harper instantly. "If it were anyone else, but Major Sharpe, Sir" Harper's voice trailed off.
"I agree," said Hogan after a long pause. "Right. Now Patrick I need ya ta show me where ya were when ya ran across dat patrol and separated," Hogan said shuffling through his painstakingly hand drawn maps and charts.
With the Major's help Harper was able to point out approximately where they were when he left Sharpe. Hogan studied the map as Harper studied Hogan. Not being able to read the map did little to help Harper, but he could read people. What he read in Major Hogan at that moment was worry.
"Dis isn't good Patrick," Hogan said finally looking up from the map. "Stay here I need ta have a word with the General," Hogan said as he hurried out of the tent leaving Harper alone.
Major Hogan returned sometime later. "I've manager ta convince the General ta let ya take the chosen men and bring Sharpe back," Hogan said.
Harper smiled broadly. "Thank ya, Sir."
"It won't be easy Patrick," Hogan said gravely. "My guess is dat Sharpe was probably taken ta San Maria. That's the closet French position in dat area."
"San Maria has a small, but well trained Garrison there," Hogan said pausing for a moment. "But dat's not yer only problem Patrick. The only reason the General's lettin' ya go after Sharpe this close ta a battle is because I have reliable information that Major Ducos is also in San Maria." Hogan paused again making sure Harper was following him. Seeing that he was he continued, "Yer job isn't just ta bring back Sharpe and the Marquesa. It's ta put a stop ta whatever it is Ducos is planning."
"Yes, Sir," said Harper.
"Well, what are ya standin' there fer?" Hogan asked grinning. "Go get him!"
"Aye, Sir," Harper said racing out of the tent and back towards the Chosen Men. "Right, lads fall in," he shouted cheerfully.
The idle Riflemen looked curiously at their sergeant and then at each other. But they quickly gathered up there gear and followed the big Irishman. They were happy to finally be doing something other than just lying about.
"As they began marching out of the camp Perkins asked, "Where we goin' Sarg.?"
"We're goin' ta get Mr. Sharpe and a certain lady back," Harper said.
"But Sarg. They 'ung Mr. Sharpe...didn't they?" Perkins spluttered unsure of what was going on.
"Ya know the Army lads, they couldn't hang a curtain," Harper laughed.
"Wake up, Major Sharpe!" Ducos yelled as his boot drove into Sharpes abdomen.
Sharpe groaned. He instinctively tried to hold his stomach to protect it from any further abuse, but was prevented by the ropes binding his hands.
Ducos smiled coldly, enjoying Sharpes pain. "And Marquesa seeing you again will be a pleasure for me, though perhaps not for you," Ducos said his voice was low and quiet. "You should have remained in the convent, a devoted follower of God. Instead youve been found in the company of a British officer and a noted enemy of France," he continued.
At that moment Helenes anger and hatred of Ducos surpassed her fear of him and as he leaned over her she spat in his face.
The victory was a small short-lived one. Ducos quickly struck, backhanding her across the face. She cried out as she fell back to the floor, but Ducos grabbed her hair and pulled her back into a sitting position. "That was a very foolish thing to do," he ground out. "Traitors are hung Marquesa, even women."
Helene glared at him. She knew Ducos would kill her despite what he might say. Still she could deny him the pleasure of watching her beg him for her life. Besides she knew it would be a useless gesture. Ducos hadn't an ounce of mercy or any other human emotion inside him.
"I will give you one chance and only one. I know you are only a woman, but hopefully you will not be so stupid as not to take what I am offering you," Ducos said pacing in front of them like an agitated animal. "I want to know what you told Sharpe of my plans?" Ducos whispered in her ear. He was so close she could smell the garlic on his breath. "Tell me and I shall say that Major Sharpe beat the information out of you and you had no choice, but to tell him," Ducos lied, "otherwise I might think you willingly told him and that dear Marquesa would be treason." Ducos grinned coldly.
Sharpe looked to Helene wondering if she would again save her own neck by forfeiting his. His heart pounded until he could barely hear anything else as he waited to hear Helene's answer.
Helene calmly looked at Ducos' cruel smiling face and then turned to look at Richard Sharpe. Even though the dirt and scratches she could see the soul of the man. Meeting his green eyes she could see the worry and uncertainty he was trying so hard to hide.
"I'm waiting Marquesa," Ducos said.
Helene nodded knowing the answer she must give. "I'm sorry," she murmured to Richard. "Major Sharpe," she said looking over towards Richard.
"Yes," Ducos prompted anxiously.
"Major Sharpe," she repeated, "doesn't know anything of your plans."
Ducos excited looked fell. Replacing it was an emotionless mask. "I thought you have been smarter Marquesa, but it appears not," he said.
Sharpe also was shocked. After her apology he had thought for sure that Helene would have accused him and revealed everything. But she hadn't. Sharpe tried to comprehend what this meant.
"Major Sharpe, what has this woman told you?" Ducos asked. "I can't of course let you live, but if you tell me I promise I'll make you death quick and easy."
Sharpe glared up at Ducos. His eyes narrowed. "She already told ya. She didn't tell me anything," Sharpe said flatly.
Ducos turned away and then suddenly spun back around catching Sharpe on the jaw with tooth jarring punch.
Helene screamed in surprise.
"I need to know how much she's told you Sharpe. You'll tell me what I want to know one way or the other, but you will tell me," Ducos said a dark menace filling his voice.
A thin trickle of blood dripped from the corner of Sharpe's mouth and ran down his chin. "I told ya, I don't know anything," he repeated his jaw already starting to ache.
"Marquesa, I will ask you again. What have you told him?" Ducos asked yanking Helene to her feet so she staggered trying to find her balance.
"He doesn't know anything," she said angrily.
"You lying whore !" Ducos shouted shoving her hard so she tumbled back to the floor.
"Leave her be!" Sharpe ordered in a low rage filled voice.
Ducos chuckled. "Ah yes the great protector of damsels in distress, Major Richard Sharpe," Ducos mocked. "The chivalrous English officer to the end, even defending the woman who had him hung." Sharpe sat emotionless. He was going to give anything away.
For the next several hours Ducos continued to ask Sharpe and Helene the same questions over and over again. Each time Sharpe denied knowing anything and Helene denied ever telling him Ducos' plans.
With their every denial Ducos became angrier and more violent. Ducos took a sadistic pleasure in having Sharpe at his mercy. Sharpe had become numb to beating he was receiving. Sharpe could deal with the beating Ducos was giving him, but the few times he went after Helene was nearly more than he could take. The only thing that had held him back was the gun barrel Ducos had thrust into his face. Sharpe knew this wasn't the time to act unless he wanted to end up dead, so he waited.
Blood now ran from Sharpe's mouth and nose. His lips had swollen and several bruised areas of his face were beginning to turn a sick yellow green colour. His body ached, but his mind was still functioning trying to come up with a plan to for he and Helene to escape.
Ducos walked over to the room's only table where an oil lamp continued to burn and Sharpe's few meagre possessions had been laid out. Ducos carelessly sifted though them until he came upon the telescope.
With precise careful movements he extended to telescope and examined it. "What a fine piece of craftsmanship," he remarked. Turning the brass cylinder over in his hands he saw the inscription plate. "To Richard Sharpe in appreciation General Arthur Wellesley," he read.
Sharpe looked up at him through swollen eyes. Ducos met him and smiled maliciously. Never taking his eyes from Sharpe Ducos threw the telescope to the floor and with the heel of his boot crushed the brass cylinders. Sharpe could hear the glass breaking and the brass being mangled with every inch of pressure.
The depth of anger in Sharpe's eyes was immeasurable. He fought with himself to remain still. Ducos enjoyed the look of anger and pain on Sharpe's face as he crushed the telescope.
"An eye for an eye Sharpe," Ducos smiled as he turned back to the table.
While Ducos' back was turned Sharpe noticed a piece of lens from his smashed telescope lying just a few feet away from him. His mind furiously plotted while his vision flicked between Ducos and the glass. If he could just reach the jagged shard he thought.
Helene had the same idea as Sharpe, but she was further away from it than he was. She looked at it longingly.
Sharpe began painstaking scooting his body inch by inch closer to the prized piece. With each movement he expected Ducos to hear him and turn around realising what he was doing.
He was nearly there when Ducos turned his attention back towards them. Sharpe swore under his breath. He was nearly there, just inches from it.
However, at the same time the sleeping ginger cat in the corner was beginning to awaken. It stretched and arched its back gracefully as if it hadn't a care in the world. Then it decided, as cats do, for no reason at all to slide wildly across the table scattering objects everywhere.
The chaos was just the opportunity Sharpe needed. As soon as he saw Ducos' attention turn to the cat and the mess it was creating he fell over scooping up the piece of glass.
Ducos swore and cursed the cat as it scampered to another corner of the room. Ducos went to make a move towards the cat, but it was far too quick and agile for him. With ease the cat ran, jumped, and squeezed out of the room's only open window leaving an irate Ducos behind.
While Ducos futilely chased the cat Sharpe was busy cutting through the ropes binding his feet. They fell away quickly and easily it was the ropes confining his wrists that were more difficult.
But by the time Ducos turned his attention back to Sharpe and Helene, Sharpe had managed to free himself from the ropes.
In a fit of anger and frustration Ducos swung again at Sharpe, only this time Sharpe swung back knocking the French spymaster back in surprise.
Ducos yelped like a bully knowing he had lost the upper hand. In an act of desperation Ducos grabbed Helene and held her in front of him a pistol pressed into her side.
Ducos and Sharpe faced off against each other with only the wooden table and Helene to separate them.
"Ya see anything, Harris?" Harper asked.
Harris' eyes peered out from beneath his shako at the road leading to the French camp at San Maria. In the near distance he could see the silhouette of the city in afternoon sunlight.
"That's San Maria, " he said double-checking the map. Besides Sharpe, Harris was the only other man of the company who could read. As such Harper had given him the map from Major Hogan.
Harper studied the city. "Doesn't look like they're welcomin' visitors," he remarked. They were crouched down together on a small hill by the side of a dirt road.
Harris shook his head in agreement. The sound of approaching footsteps interrupted his thoughts. He and Harper turned to see a small band of French soldiers marching down the road to San Maria. Harper and Harris looked at one another.
"Harris what do ya say we take the lads go down there and ask those fellows fer a bit help?" he grinned. Harris smiled guessing what Harper had in mind. "Right you are Sarg," he replied.
~Without any inquiries Harper and the Chosen Men dressed in French uniforms marched straight into San Maria. Down the streets they searched trying to avoid the any soldiers and look for Sharpe.
"It won't be this easy gettin' out with him you know?" Harris said.
"Aye," muttered Harper, "we'll need a distraction."
"Sarg," Cooper whispered.
"What?" Harper asked.
"Did ya see all them barrels of gun powder when we marched in here?" he asked.
"Cooper if'in ya weren't so ugly I'd kiss ya right now," Harper quipped. "Harris and Hagman take the lads and go buy us some time with that gun powder," Harper ordered.
"What are ya gonna do?" asked Hagman.
"I'm gonna go find Mr. Sharpe," Harper answered as he turned and disappeared down another street.
"Bloody hell!" Hagman said to Harris, "guess we best get the Sergeant his distraction."
As Harper and the lads were figuring out how they were going to get Sharpe out of San Maria Sharpe and Ducos were squaring off.
"If you come near me I'll kill her," screeched a frantic Ducos as he circled the table dragging Helene with him.
"Ya'll do it anyway," Sharpe growled as stalked Ducos, like a wolf it's prey.
"You can't win Sharpe! You'll never get out of San Maria."
Sharpe shrugged, "maybe not, but at least ya'll be dead," he smiled increasing Ducos' panic.
Helene meantime struggled to free herself from Ducos grip clawing at his arm with her fingernails. "Stop or I'll shoot you," he ordered as he tightened his grip around her throat nearly choaking.
Helene ceased her struggles at once at looked at Sharpe. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and prayed. Without another thought she ground the heel of her foot in Ducos and twisted her body away from him.
Helene slamming her heel into his foot and pulling away threw Ducos off balance enough that he was forced to release his grip on Helene in order to stay on his feet. It was the opening Sharpe had needed.
Sharpe lunged for Ducos. The two fell to the floor as they grappled for the pistol. Ducos swung out with wild punches as he tried desperately to hold Sharpe off.
Sharpe tried to wrench the pistol away from Ducos, but the Frenchman's fear had tightened his grip so much that Sharpe couldn't pry his fingers loose. He slammed Ducos hand into the floor. They rolled around each momentarily gaining then loosing the advantage.
Sharpe, at one point, was over Ducos pummelling him with his fists when Ducos somehow managed to gain enough leverage to force Sharpe off him. They rolled across the floor right into the leg of the table with Ducos coming out on top.
But the bump to the table was enough to unsettle the oil lamp that had been setting near the edge. The lamp rocked back and forth for a moment unsure whether or not to fall. Then as if it had suddenly made a decision it tumbled off the table and onto Ducos.
The glass shattered and the oil sloshed out onto Ducos. Within seconds the tiny lamp flame had spread over Ducos licking up the spilled oil like a cat lapped milk. Ducos screamed in terror.
Sharpe instantly threw Ducos off him and rolled away from the burning spymaster. He jumped to his feet and grabbed Helene. "Come on! The whole bloody place is about ta go up!" he shouted reaching for the door.
By now Ducos couldn't even be seen behind the wall of flames that was his body. His shrieks of pain were enough to make the fiercest banshee cower. It was this noise that attracted Harper and several French soldiers' attention to the building where Sharpe and Helene had been held.
Sharpe yanked open the door as he and Helene ran out into the street. The soldiers who might have ordinarily stopped them didn't even notice them. They were too busy standing in disbelief as a giant walking wall of flames followed them out howling.
It was Harper who saw Sharpe. "Captain Sharpe," he called. His call was drowned out by a giant explosion near the front gates that knocked them all to the ground.
Sharpe staggered to his feet still holding on to Helene. "Captain Sharpe!" Harper called again.
This time Sharpe heard him and turned to see his Irish Sargent in a French uniform. "Pat what in bloody hell are ya"
"No time, Sir the lads and I are here ta get ya out," Harper interrupted.
Sharpe smiled. "Come on then!" he yelled as he lead the way, running towards the front gate.
~Two days later Sharpe leaned back into the soft white pillows. What a two days it had been, he thought. After leaving Ducos to burn they had rushed out of San Maria with little opposition and what there was easily was fought off.
They marched non-stop all the way back to the British Army's camp. Arriving moments before General Wellington was to begin the battle. With a few words of explanation from Helene, Sharpe was restored to his rank as Major and commanded to lead the 95th Rifles on to the battlefield.
"What are you thinking about?" Helene asked snuggling up under the blankets next to Sharpe.
Sharpe grinned wickedly at her. His face was still bruised and his lip swollen, but he was still the sexiest man Helene had ever set eyes on. "I was thinkin' how everything worked out," he said running a hand slowing down Helene's bare shoulder tracing the curve of her arm.
Helene closed her eyes and revelled in the feel of Sharpe's touch. Sharpe had been given the duty of protecting her until she left in the morning and had been taking his duty very seriously. He hadn't let her out of his sight or touch. They remained in Helene's room in bed.
"Hmmmmm," Helene murmured as his hand drifted lower under the covers. "I like you cleaned up Richard."
"Do ya now and here I thought ya just liked me up?" he teased wickedly.
Helene threw back her head and laughed her blonde curls rustling the pillowcase and tickling Richard's face. "Oh I like that too," she added rolling over and propping herself up on her elbow. Sharpe was never one to let opportunity pass him by reached up and pulled Helene down until her lips met his. With the perfection only practise can bring Sharpe kissed Helene with a passion only poets can fathom.
Before Sharpe could go any further though Helene rolled away. "What?" he asked confused.
"I have something for you," she said reaching over to the small table near the bed and picking up an object wrapped in white lace.
Richard took the lace package from her and stared back at her. "Open it," she urged.
Richard Sharpe wasn't a man who was use to receiving gifts. Hesitantly he carefully undid he delicate white ribbon tied around it and folded back the lace while Helene waited impatiently.
Sharpe gasped when he peeled away the final layer of lace. There was a new shiny brass telescope. He looked back and forth between Helene and the telescope.
"It's to replace the one you lost," she said smiling.
Sharpe wasn't sure what to say, a "thank you" somehow seemed so inadequate. He read the inscription, "To Richard Sharpe, always Helene."
Helene knew what it meant to Sharpe without him having to say a word. She could read it in his eyes and in his mannerisms. "You don't have to say anything," she told him.
"Nay, but can I show ya?" he asked setting the new telescope safely aside and pulling Helene's body back into his body.
While Sharpe and Helene made love until the morning when her carriahe came to take her away. As she and Sharpe were bidding farewell, in the town of San Maria Ducos's body awaited burial. His charred remains had been placed under a tarpaulin and set far aside.
The men who were assigned to dig the grave didn't notice the tarpaulin move or the eyes snap open of the body beneath it.