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Warning: Mature Adults only
Subject: FIC: Mother's Arms - 1/1 (PG)
Title: Dispatches - Mother's Arms
Author: Daemona <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Rating: PG for gory bits.
Spoilers/Warnings: None (apart from the aforementioned gory bits). My apologies - no smut in this one either.
Summary: A short scene from the life of Richard Sharpe, our favourite Napoleonic Rifleman.
Disclaimer: Bernard Cornwell owns Sharpe and the Chosen Men, and I, of course, own nothing. Nor have I made any money from this work of fiction.
They usually call for their mothers. Sometimes they beg for a priest, or call on God, Jesus, and the saints to help them, to hold back the encroaching tides of darkness. But, as the waves of pain and terror wash over them, and their life ebbs away, they turn finally to that most basic of comforts and cry out for the safe harbour of those loving arms to shelter them from the dark.
"Maman!" The Frenchman was very young; too young to die, but one of them had shot him anyway. Now he was lying by the road, clutching his belly and begging for his mother. The spreading stain of the blood seeping from beneath his hands coloured his blue uniform a sticky, glistening purple. Hagman gently pried the spasming fingers from the wound and pulled the tunic apart. A quick look, and he shook his head at Sharpe.
"Sorry, sir. 'E's a gonner," he said.
Perkins grimaced and turned away. Sharpe guessed that he'd been the one who had shot the boy. It couldn't be helped. That was their job -- shooting Frenchmen, and Perkins had already done more than his fair share. It was never easy, afterwards, but you didn't usually have to stand around and watch them die.
A thin stream of red was trickling from one corner of the Frenchman's mouth and his breath shuddered in his chest. His terrified gaze flitted from face to face, as if seeking someone familiar.
"There you go, lad." Harper had knelt next to the boy, and gently pulled the tousled head into his huge lap. "There, there. Soon be over."
The Frenchman rolled his eyes upwards and he lifted bloody fingers in mute appeal. He was shivering and his face was growing paler by the second. Hagman reached out and grasped the seeking hands.
Cooper had taken Perkins aside and was talking urgently to him, his voice too low to carry. Perkins was nodding his head, agreeing, but his white-faced glances to the boy lying in the dirt revealed his agitation.
The young Frenchman was sobbing helplessly now. Sharpe stood looking down at him, unable to help and yet for some reason unable to move away. He had seen plenty of people die before -- often enough to feel little more than relief that it was some other poor bugger and not himself. It was that realisation that bothered him most; that he would feel no horror or remorse, just a guilty gladness.
"Can't you say something, Harris?" Sharpe snapped irritably.
"Like what, sir?"
Sharpe had no answer.
Harris dropped down next to the youth and started speaking quietly to him. The boy turned slightly and tried to speak but it came out as a bubbling cough.
"Hush now." Harper kept on smoothing the bedraggled hair.
The boy was growing pale. His translucent skin had taken on a blueish tone, as if the dye from the blue jacket had run into his skin as the red from his body leached into the uniform. It was, thought Sharpe, as if he was turning into a ghost right before their very eyes. And then the thought of the ghost and the ghosts of all the Frenchmen he'd killed and the ranks and ranks of haunting him made him shudder, before he dismissed the thought. Sharpe swung on his heel. No point in watching this. It would be over soon.
"Should we bury him, sir?"
Sharpe looked up from the map he was studying and shook his head. He gestured towards the horses the ambushed patrol had been riding, aimlessly cropping the thin grass.
"Take a look at those Frog horses, Perkins. What do you see?"
Perkins looked, and looked again, before shaking his head in bafflement.
"I don't see anything unusual, sir."
"Exactly, Perkins. No forage nets. Wherever these lads came from, it were close enough for them to be able to get back to for re-supply. There's a few villages over those hills. When this patrol don't show up, someone will come looking for them. We can't hang around."
Sharpe hissed irritably and swung round to face the lad. "His own folk will be along shortly... "
Perkins stood there, twisting his hat in his hands.
Sharpe sighed and glanced around at the stony ground. It would be impossible to dig a grave without entrenching tools, doubly impossible to do it quickly.
"Alright, Perkins." Sharpe straightened. If they all pitched in they could be done quickly. "Chosen Men! A cairn. At the double!"
They laid him in a shallow trench and covered him with stones. Sharpe kept watch for any more French patrols but they were undisturbed.
With each stone weighing down the body, Perkins seemed to recover a little. He was laying a ghost to rest. Would he cry out for her, Sharpe wondered, when it was his turn? Call for the dim, remembered warmth of his mother's arms? Somehow he doubted it.
Finally, Harper thrust the crude wooden cross he'd made into the head of the long pile of stones and straightened. Hagman brushed the dirt from his hands and stood up stiffly. Sharpe suddenly realised that the men were all standing round, holding their hats in their hands and looking at him expectantly.
Sharpe took a deep breath, wondering what to say. Finally, he spoke.
"Sleep well, lad."
There was a short pause, then Harris pulled his hat back on and the others followed suit. Sharpe shouldered his rifle and nodded. Without a word they fell in and set off.
Back to the loving arms of King George.