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Bernard Cornwell



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1. /Sharpe's Eagle.docBernard Cornwell

Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe’s Eagle


Richard Sharpe and the Talavera campaign July 1809


For Judy


Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier.”

Samuel Johnson

 

CHAPTER 1


The guns could be heard long before they came into sight. Children clung to their mothers’ skirts and wondered what dreadful thing made such noises. The hooves of the great horses mixed with the jangling of traces and chains, the hollow rumbling of the blurring wheels, and above it all the crashes as tons of brass, iron and timber bounced on the town’s broken paving. Then they were in view; guns, limbers, horses and outriders, and the gunners looked as tough as the squat, blackened barrels that spoke of the fighting up north where the artillery had dragged their massive weapons through swollen rivers and up rain-soaked slopes to pound the enemy into oblivion and defeat. Now they would do it again. Mothers held their smallest children and pointed at the guns, boasted that these British would make Napoleon wish he had stayed in Corsica and suckled pigs, which was all he was fit for.

And the cavalry! The Portuguese civilians applauded the trotting ranks of gorgeous uniforms, the curved, polished sabres unsheathed for display in Abrantes’ streets and squares, and the fine dust from the horses’ hooves was a small price to pay for the sight of the splendid Regiments who, the townspeople said, would chase the French clean over the Pyrenees and back into the sewers of Paris itself. Who could resist this army? From north and south, from the ports on the western coast, they were coming together and marching east on the road that led to the Spanish frontier and to the enemy. Portugal will be free, Spain’s pride restored, France humbled, and these British soldiers can go back to their own wine-shops and inns, leaving Abrantes and Lisbon, Coimbra and Oporto in peace. The soldiers themselves were not so confident. True they had beaten Souk’s northern army but, marching into their lengthening shadows, they wondered what lay beyond Castelo Branco, the next town and the last before the frontier. Soon they would face again the blue-coated veterans of Jena and Austerlitz, the masters of Europe’s battlefields, the French regiments that had turned the finest armies of the world into so much mincemeat. The townspeople were impressed, at least by the cavalry and artillery, but to experienced eyes the troops gathering round Abrantes were pitifully few and the French armies to the east threateningly big. The British army that awed the children of Abrantes would not frighten the French Marshals.


Lieutenant Richard Sharpe, waiting for orders in his billet on the outskirts of town, watched the cavalry sheath their sabres as the last spectators were left behind and then he turned back to the job of unwinding the dirty bandage from his thigh.

As the last few inches peeled stickily away some maggots dropped to the floor and Sergeant Harper knelt to pick them up before looking at the wound.

“Healed, sir. Beautiful.”

Sharpe grunted. The sabre cut had become nine inches of puckered scar tissue, clean and pink against the darker skin. He picked off a last fat maggot and gave it to Harper to put safely away.

“There, my beauty, well fed you are.” Sergeant Harper closed the tin and looked up at Sharpe. “You were lucky, sir.”

That was true, thought Sharpe. The French Hussar had nearly ended him, that man’s blade halfway through a massive down-stroke when Harper’s rifle bullet had lifted him from the saddle and the Frenchman’s grimace, framed by the weird pigtails, had turned to sudden agony. Sharpe had twisted desperately away and the sabre, aimed at his neck, had sliced into his thigh to leave another scar as a memento of sixteen years in the British army. It had not been a deep wound but Sharpe had watched too many men die from smaller cuts, the blood poisoned, the flesh discoloured and stinking, and the doctors helpless to do anything but let the man sweat and rot to his death in the charnel houses they called hospitals. A handful of maggots did more than any army doctor, eating away the diseased tissue to let the healthy flesh close naturally. He stood up and tested the leg. “Thank you, Sergeant. Good as new.”

“Pleasure’s all mine, sir.”

Sharpe pulled on the cavalry overalls he wore instead of the regulation green trousers of the 95th Rifles. He was proud of the green overalls with their black leather reinforcement panels, stripped from the corpse of a Chasseur Colonel of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard last winter. The outside of each leg had been decorated with more than twenty silver buttons and the metal had paid for food and drink as his small band of refugee Riflemen had escaped south through the Galician snows. The Colonel had been a lucky kill; there were not many men in either army as tall as Sharpe but the overalls fitted him perfectly and the Frenchman’s soft, rich, black leather boots could have been made for the English Lieutenant. Patrick Harper had not been so fortunate. The Sergeant topped Sharpe by a full four inches and the huge Irishman had yet to find any trousers to replace his faded, patched and tattered pair that were scarcely fit to scare crows in a turnip field. The whole company was like that, their boots literally tied together with strips of hide, and as long as their parent Battalion was home in England Sharpe’s small company could find no Commissary Officer willing to complicate his account books by issuing them with new trousers or shoes.

Sergeant Harper handed Sharpe his uniform jacket. “Do you want a Hungarian bath, sir?”

Sharpe shook his head. “It’s bearable.” There were not too many lice in the jacket, not enough to justify steeping it in the smoke from a grass fire and to smell like a charcoal burner for the next two days. The jacket was as worn as those of the rest of his company but nothing, not the best-tailored corpse in Portugal or Spain, would have persuad­ed Sharpe to throw it away. It was green, the dark green jacket of the 95th Rifles, and it was the badge of an elite Regiment. British Infantry wore red, but the best British Infantry wore green, and even after three years in the th Sharpe took pleasure in the distinction of the green uniform. It was all he had, his uniform and what he could carry on his back. Richard Sharpe knew no home other than the Regiment, no family except for his company, and no belongings except what fitted into his pack and pouch­es. He knew no other way to live and expected that it would be the way he would die. Round his waist he tied the red officer’s sash and covered it with the black leather belt with its silver snake buckle. After a year in the Peninsula only the sash and his sword denoted his officer’s rank and even his sword, like the overalls, broke regulations. Offi­cers of the Rifles, like all Light Infantry officers, were supposed to carry a curved cavalry sabre but Sharpe hated the weapon. In its place he wore the long, straight sword of the Heavy Cavalry; a brute of a weapon, ill balanced and crude, but Sharpe liked the feel of a savage blade that could beat down the slim swords of French officers and crush aside a musket and bayonet.

The sword was not his only weapon. For ten years Richard Sharpe had marched in the red-coated ranks, first as a private, then a Sergeant, carrying a smooth-bore musket across the plains of India. He had stood in the line with the heavy flintlock, gone terrified into broken breach­es with a bayonet, and he still carried a ranker’s weapon into battle. The Baker rifle was his mark, it set him aside from other officers, and sixteen-year-old Ensigns,* (*The Historical Note at the back of the book explains military terms that may be unfamiliar.) fresh in their bright new uniforms, looked warily at the tall, black-haired Lieutenant with the slung rifle and the scar which, except when he smiled, gave his face a look of grim amusement. Some wondered if the stories were true, stories of Seringapatam and Assaye, of Vimeiro and Lugo, but one glance from the apparently mocking eyes, or a sight of the worn grips on his weapons, stopped the wondering. Few new officers stopped to think of what the rifle really represented, of the fiercest struggle Sharpe had ever fought, the climb from the ranks into the officers’ mess. Sergeant Harper looked out of the window into the square soaked in afternoon sunlight.

“Here comes Happy, sir.”

“Captain Hogan.”

Harper ignored the reproof. He and Sharpe had been together too long, shared too many dangers, and the Sergeant knew precisely what liberties he could take with his taciturn officer. “He’s looking more cheerful than ever, sir. He must have another job for us.”

“I wish to God they’d send us home.”

Harper, his huge hands gently stripping the lock of his rifle, pretended not to hear the remark. He knew what it meant but the subject was a dangerous one. Sharpe commanded the remnants of a company of Riflemen who had been cut off from the rearguard of Sir John Moore’s army during its retreat to Corunna the winter before. It had been a terrible campaign in weather that was like the traveller’s tales of Russia rather than northern Spain. Men had died in their sleep, their hair frozen to the ground, while others dropped exhausted from the march and let death overtake them. The discipline of the army had crumbled and the drunken stragglers were easy meat for the French cavalry who flogged their exhausted mounts at the heel of the British army. The rabble was saved from disaster only by the few Regiments, like the 95th, which kept their discipline and fought on. 1808 turned into 1809 and still the nightmarish battle went on, a battle fought with damp powder by freezing men peering through the snow for a glimpse of the cloaked French Dragoons. Then, on a day when the blizzard bellied in the wind like a malevolent monster, the company had been cut off by the horsemen. The Captain was killed, the other Lieutenant, the rifles wouldn’t fire and the enemy sabres rose and fell and the damp snow muffled all sounds except for the grunts of the Dragoons and the terrible chopping of the blades cutting into wounds that steamed in the freezing air. Lieutenant Sharpe and a few survivors fought clear and scrambled into high rocks where horsemen could not follow, but when the storm blew out, and the last desper­ately wounded man died, there was no hope of rejoining the army. The second Battalion of the 95th Rifles had sailed home while Sharpe and his thirty men, lost and forgotten, had headed south, away from the French, to join the small British garrison in Lisbon.

Since then Sharpe had asked a dozen times to be sent home but Riflemen were too scarce, too valuable, and the army’s new commander, Sir Arthur Wellesley, was unwill­ing to lose even thirty-one. So they had stayed and fought for whichever Battalion needed its Light Company strengthened and had marched north again, retracing their steps, and been with Wellesley when he avenged Sir John Moore by tumbling Marshal Soult and his veterans out of North Portugal. Harper knew his Lieutenant harboured a sullen anger at his predicament. Richard Sharpe was poor, dog poor, and he would never have the money to purchase his next promotion. To become a Captain, even in an ordinary Battalion of the line, would cost Sharpe fifteen hundred pounds, and he might as well hope to be made King of France as raise that money. He had only one hope of promotion and that was by seniority in his own Regiment; to step into the shoes of men who died or were promoted and whose own commissions had not been purchased. But as long as Sharpe was in Portugal and the Regiment was home in England he was being forgotten and passed over, time and again, and the unfairness soured Sharpe’s resentment. He watched men younger than himself purchase their Captaincies, their Majorities, while he, a better soldier, was left on the heap because he was poor and because he was fighting instead of being safe home in England.

The door of the cottage banged open and Captain Hogan stepped into the room. He looked, in his blue coat and white trousers, like a naval officer and he claimed his uniform had been mistaken for a Frenchman’s so often that he had been fired on more by his own side than by the enemy. He was an Engineer, one of the tiny number of Military Engineers in Portugal, and he grinned as he took off his cocked hat and nodded at Sharpe’s leg. “The warrior restored? How’s the leg?”

“Perfect, sir.”

“Sergeant Harper’s maggots, eh? Well, we Irish are clever devils. God knows where you English would be without us.” Hogan took out his snuff box and inhaled a vast pinch. As Sharpe waited for the inevitable sneeze he eyed the small, middle-aged Captain fondly. For a month his Riflemen had been Hogan’s escort as the Engineer had mapped the roads across the high passes that led to Spain. It was no secret that any day now Wellesley would take the army into Spain, to follow the River Tagus that was aimed like a spear at the capital, Madrid, and Hogan, as well as sketching endless maps, had strengthened the culverts and bridges which would have to take the tons of brass and wood as the field artillery rolled towards the enemy. It had been a job well done in agreeable company, until it rained and the rifles wouldn’t fire and the crazy-eyed French Hussar had nearly made a name for himself by his mad solo charge at a group of Riflemen. Somehow Sergeant Harper had kept the damp out of his firing pan, and Sharpe still shivered when he thought of what might have happened if the rifle had not fired.

The Sergeant collected the pieces of his rifle lock as if he was about to leave but Hogan held up his hand. “Stay on, Patrick. I have a treat for you; one that even a heathen from Donegal might like.” He took a dark bottle out of his haversack and raised an eyebrow to Sharpe. “You don’t mind?”

Sharpe shook his head. Harper was a good man, good at everything he did, and in their three years’ acquaintance­ship Sharpe and Harper had become friends, or at least as friendly as an officer and a Sergeant could be. Sharpe could not imagine fighting without the huge Irishman beside him, the Irishman dreaded fighting without Sharpe, and together they were as formidable a pair as Hogan had ever seen on a battlefield. The Captain set the bottle on the table and pulled the cork. “Brandy. French brandy from Marshal Soult’s own cellars and captured at Oporto. With the compliments of the General.”

“From Wellesley?” Sharpe asked.

“The man himself. He asked after you, Sharpe, and I said you were being doctored or would have been with me.”

Sharpe said nothing. Hogan paused in his careful pouring of the liquid. “Don’t be unfair, Sharpe! He’s fond of you. Do you think he’s forgotten Assaye?”

Assaye. Sharpe remembered all right. The field of dead outside the Indian village where he had been commis­sioned on the battlefield. Hogan pushed a tin cup of brandy across the table to him. “You know he can’t make you into a Captain of the 95th. He doesn’t have the power!”

“I know.” Sharpe smiled and raised the cup to his lips. But Wellesley did have the power to send him home where promotion might be had. He pushed the thought away, knowing the nagging insult of his rank would soon come back, and was envious of Hogan who, being an Engineer, could only gain promotion by seniority. It meant that Hogan was still only a Captain, even in his fifties, but at least there was no jealousy and injustice because no man could buy his way up the ladder of promotion. He leaned forward. “So? Any news? Are we still with you?”

“You are. And we have a job.” Hogan’s eyes twinkled. “And a wonderful job it is, too.”

Patrick Harper grinned. “That means a powerful big bang.”

Hogan nodded. “You are right, Sergeant. A big bridge to be blown.” He took a map out of his pocket and unfolded it onto the table. Sharpe watched a callused finger trace the River Tagus from the sea at Lisbon, past Abrantes where they now sat, and on into Spain to stop where the river made a huge southwards loop. “Valdelacasa,” Hogan said. “There’s an old bridge there, a Roman one. The General doesn’t like it.”

Sharpe could see why. The army would march on the north bank of the Tagus towards Madrid and the river would guard their right flank. There were few bridges where the French might cross and harass their supply lines and those bridges were in towns, like Alcantara, where the Spanish kept garrisons to protect the crossings. Valdelacasa was not even marked. If there was no town there would be no garrison, and a French force could cross and play havoc in the British rear. Harper leaned over and looked at the map.

“Why isn’t it marked, sir?”

Hogan made a contemptuous noise. “I’m surprised the map even marks Madrid, let alone Valdelacasa.” He was right. The infamous old Tomas Lopez map, the only one available to the armies in Spain, was a wondrous work of the Spanish imagination. Hogan stabbed his finger down onto the map. “The bridge is hardly used, it’s in bad repair. We’re told you can hardly put a cart across, let alone a gun, but it could be repaired and we could have ”old trousers“ up our backsides in no time.” Sharpe smiled. ’Old trousers’ was the Rifle’s strange nickname for the French, and Hogan had adopted the phrase with relish. The Engineer lowered his voice conspiratorially. ”It’s a strange place, I’m told, just a ruined convent and the bridge. They call it El Puente de los Malditos.“ He nodded as if he had made his point.

Sharpe waited a few seconds and sighed. “All right. What does it mean?”

Hogan smiled triumphantly. “I’m surprised you need to ask! It means ”The Bridge of the Accursed“. It seems that, years ago, all the nuns were taken out of the convent and massacred by the Moors. It’s haunted, Sharpe, stalked by the spirits of the dead!”

Sharpe leaned forward to peer more closely at the map. Give or take the width of Hogan’s finger the bridge must be sixty miles beyond the border and they were that far from Spain already. “When do we leave?”

“Now there’s a problem.” Hogan folded the map careful­ly. “We can leave for the frontier tomorrow but we can’t cross until we’re formally invited by the Spanish.” He leaned back with his cup of brandy. “And we have to wait for our escort.”

“Escort!” Sharpe bridled. “We’re your escort.”

Hogan shook his head. “Oh, no. This is politics. The Spanish will let us blow up their bridge but only if a Spanish Regiment goes along with us. It’s a question of pride, apparently.”

“Pride!” Sharpe’s anger was obvious. “If you have a whole Regiment of Spaniards then why the hell do you need us?”

Hogan smiled placatingly. “Oh, I need you. There’s more, you see.” He was interrupted by Harper. The Sergeant was standing at the window, oblivious of their conversation, and staring into the small square.

“That is nice. Oh, sir, that can clean my rifle any day of the week.”

Sharpe looked through the small window. Outside, on a black mare, sat a girl dressed in black; black breeches, black jacket, and a wide-brimmed hat that shadowed her face but in no way obscured a beauty that was startling. Sharpe saw a wide mouth, dark eyes, coiled hair the colour of fine powder, and then she became aware of their scrutiny. She half smiled at them and turned away, snapped an order at a servant holding the halter of a mule, and stared at the road leading from the plaza towards the centre of Abrantes. Hogan made a small, contented noise. “That is special. They don’t come out like that very often. I wonder who she is?”

“Officer’s wife?” Sharpe suggested.

Harper shook his head. “No ring, sir. But she’s waiting for someone, lucky bastard.”

And a rich bastard, thought Sharpe. The army was collecting its customary tail of women and children who followed the Regiments to war. Each Battalion was allowed to take sixty soldiers’ wives to an overseas war but no-one could stop other women joining the ‘official’ wives; local girls, prostitutes, seamstresses and washerwomen, all mak­ing their living from the army. This girl looked different. There was the smell of money and privilege about her, as if she had run away from a rich Lisbon home. Sharpe presumed she was the lover of a rich officer, one of the breed who would regard his woman as much a part of his equipment as his thoroughbred horses, his Manton pistols, his silver dinnerware for camp meals, and the hounds that would trot obediently at his horse’s tail. There were plenty of girls like her, Sharpe knew, girls who cost a lot of money, and he felt the old envy rise in him.

“My God.” Harper, still staring out the window, had spoken again.

“What is it?” Sharpe leaned forward and, like his Ser­geant, he could hardly believe his eyes. A Battalion of British Infantry was marching steadily into the square but a Battalion the like of which Sharpe had not seen for more than twelve months. A year in Portugal had turned the army into a Drill-Sergeant’s nightmare: the soldiers’ uniforms had faded and been patched with the ubiquitous brown cloth of the Portuguese peasants, their hair had grown long, the polish had long disappeared from buttons and badges. Sir Arthur Wellesley did not mind; he only cared that a soldier had sixty rounds of ammunition and a clear head, and if his trousers were brown instead of white then it made no difference to the outcome of a fight. But this Battalion was fresh from England. Their coats were a brilliant scarlet, their crossbelts pipeclayed white, their boots a mirror-surfaced black. Each man wore tightly-buttoned gaiters and, even more surprising, they still wore the infamous stocks; four inches of stiffly varnished black leather that constricted the neck and was supposed to keep a man’s chin high and back straight. Sharpe could not remember when he had last seen a stock; once on campaign the men ‘lost’ them, and with them went the running sores where the rigid leather dug into the soft flesh beneath the jawbone.

“They’ve taken the wrong turning for Windsor Castle,” Harper said.

Sharpe shook his head. “They’re unbelievable!” Whoever commanded this Battalion must have made the men’s lives hell to keep them looking so immaculate despite the voyage from England in cramped and foul ships and the long march from Lisbon in the summer heat. Their weapons shone, their equipment was pristine and regular, while their faces bulged red from the constricting stocks and the unaccustomed sun. At the head of each company rode the officers, all, Sharpe noted, mounted superbly. The colours were cased in polished leather and guarded by Sergeants whose halberd blades had been burnished to a brilliant, glittering sheen. The men marched in perfect step, looking neither right nor left, for all the world, as Harper had said, as if they were marching for the Royal duty at Windsor.

“Who are they?” Sharpe was trying to think of the Regiments who had yellow facings on their uniforms but this looked like none of the Regiments he knew.

“The South Essex,” Hogan said.

„The who?“

“The South Essex. They’re new, very new. Just raised by Lieutenant Colonel Sir Henry Simmerson, a cousin of General Sir Banestre Tarleton.”

Sharpe whistled softly. Tarleton had fought in the American war and now sat in Parliament as Wellesley’s bitterest military opponent. Sharpe had heard said that Tarleton wanted the command of the army in Portugal for himself and bitterly resented the younger man’s prefer­ment. Tarleton was a man of influence, a dangerous enemy for Wellesley, and Sharpe knew enough about the politics of high command to realise that the presence of Tarleton’s cousin in the army would not be welcomed by Wellesley.

“Is that him?” He pointed to a portly man riding a grey horse in the centre of the Battalion.

Hogan nodded. “That is Sir Henry Simmerson, whom God preserve or preferably not.”

Lieutenant Colonel Sir Henry Simmerson had a red face lined with purple veins and pendulous with jowls. His eyes, at the distance Sharpe was seeing them, seemed small and red, and on either side of the suspicious, questing face there sprung prominent ears that looked like the protrud­ing trunnions either side of a cannon barrel. He looked, Sharpe thought, like a pig on horseback. “I’ve not heard of the man.”

“That’s not surprising. He’s done nothing.” Hogan was scornful. “Landed money, in Parliament for Paglesham, justice of the peace and, God help us, a Militia Colonel.” Hogan seemed surprised by his own lack of charity. “He means well. He won’t be content till those lads are the best damned Battalion in the army but I think the man has a terrible shock coming when he finds the difference be­tween us and the Militia.”

Like other Regular officers Hogan had little time for the Militia, Britain’s second army. It was used exclusively within Britain itself, never had to fight, never went hungry, never slept in an open field beneath a cloudburst, yet it paraded with a glorious pomp and self-importance.

Hogan laughed. “Mustn’t complain. We’re lucky to have Sir Henry.”

“Lucky?” Sharpe looked at the greying Engineer.

“Oh, yes. Sir Henry only arrived in Abrantes yesterday but he tells us he’s a great expert on war. The man’s not yet seen a Frenchman but he’s lectured the General on how to beat them!” Hogan laughed and shook his head. “Maybe he’ll learn. One battle could take the starch out of him.”

Sharpe looked at the companies marching steadily through the square like automatons. The brass badges on their shakoes reflected the sun but the faces beneath the brilliance were expressionless. Sharpe loved the army, it was his home, the refuge that an orphan had needed sixteen years before, but he liked it most of all because it gave him, in a clumsy way, the opportunity to prove again and again that he was valued. He could chafe against the rich and the privileged but he acknowledged that the army had taken him from the gutter and put an officer’s sash round his waist and Sharpe could think of no other job that would offer a low-born bastard on the run from the law the chance of rank and responsibility. But Sharpe had also been lucky. In sixteen years he had rarely stopped fighting, and it had been his fortune that the battles in Flanders, India and Portugal had called for men like himself who reacted to danger the way a gambler reacted to a deck of cards. Sharpe suspected he would hate the peacetime army, with its church parades and pointless drills, its petty jealousies and endless polish, and in the South Essex he saw the peacetime army he did not want. “I suppose he’s a flogger?”

Hogan grimaced. “Floggings, punishment parades, extra drills. You name it and Sir Henry uses it. He will have, he says, only the best. And they are. What do you think of them?”

Sharpe laughed grimly. “God keep me from the South Essex. That’s not too much to ask, is it?”

Hogan smiled. “I’m afraid it is.”

Sharpe looked at him, a sinking feeling in his stomach. Hogan shrugged. “I told you there was more. If a Spanish Regiment marches to Valdelacasa then Sir Arthur feels, for the sake of diplomacy, that a British one should go as well. Show the flag; that kind of thing.“ He glanced at the polished ranks and back to Sharpe. ”Sir Henry Simmerson and his fine men are going with us.“

Sharpe groaned. “You mean we have to take orders from him?”

Hogan pursed his lips. “Not exactly. Strictly speaking you will take your orders from me.” He had spoken primly, like a lawyer, and Sharpe glanced at him curiously. There could be only one reason why Wellesley had subordinated Sharpe and his Riflemen to Hogan, instead of to Simmerson, and that was because the General did not trust Sir Henry. Sharpe still wondered why he was needed; after all Hogan could expect the protection of two whole Battalions, at least fifteen hundred men. “Does the General expect there to be a fight?”

Hogan shrugged. “He doesn’t know. The Spanish say that the French have a whole Regiment of cavalry on the south bank, with horse artillery, who’ve been chasing Guérilleros up and down the river since spring. Who knows? He thinks they may try to stop us blowing the bridge.”

“I still don’t understand why you need us.”

Hogan smiled. “Perhaps I don’t. But there won’t be any action for a month; the French will let us go deep into Spain before they fight, so Valdelacasa will at least be the chance of a scramble. And I want someone with me I can trust. Perhaps I just want you along as a favour?”

Sharpe smiled. Some favour, wet-nursing a Militia Colonel who thought he knew it all, but he hid his feelings. “For you, sir, it will be a pleasure.”

Hogan smiled back. “Who knows? It might be. She’s going along.” Sharpe followed Hogan’s gaze out of the window and saw the black-dressed girl raise a hand to an officer of the South Essex. Sharpe had an impression of a blond man, immaculately uniformed, mounted on a horse that had probably cost more than the rider’s commission. The girl spurred her mare forward and, followed by the servant and his mule, joined the rear of the Battalion that was marching down the road that led to Castelo Branco. The square became empty again, the dust settling in the fierce heat, and Sharpe leaned back and began to laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Hogan asked.

Sharpe pointed with his cup of brandy at Harper’s tattered jacket and gaping trousers. “Sir Henry’s not exactly going to be fond of his new allies.”

The Sergeant’s face stayed gloomy. “God save Ireland.”

Hogan raised his cup. “Amen to that.”

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