by Clio


Sunlight came through the open tent flap. Thin, watery sunlight typical
of an autumn morning. It was enough. The orderly could make out the
shape of his commander lying on a camp bed, hunched under the blankets.
He raised his voice slightly, and called again.


A groan sounded from under the blankets. It was followed by a voice
which, even slurred from sleep, still managed to sound authoritative.

"Please do not tell me its morning already, because its not possible that
one hour of rest is all we've been allotted."

The orderly, Private Martin Andrews, smiled slightly. He was used to his
commander's sense of humour, which usually came out at the oddest of
times. He had served with the man for nearly five years, but the rest of
the battalion was still adjusting to their new colonel.

"I'm sorry sir, but it is morning, and the brigade is ordered to muster
in one hour. Did you want tea, sir?"

A hand appeared over the edge of the blanket, pushed it down, and Colonel
Lord Henry Edrington stared at the white canvas above his head. His
right shoulder was aching fiercely, a result of a pistol ball taken four
days previous in a rear guard action. He wearily swung his legs over the
edge of the bed and pulled himself to a sitting position, scrubbing his
face with both hands as he did so. He glanced up at Andrews.

"Tea? I don't suppose there's any of the coffee left that Captain
Hornblower sent, is there?" Andrews shook his head. "Of course not!"
Edrington stood and stretched, flinching at the pain in his shoulder. He
looked at the orderly, waiting patiently. "Yes, Andrews. I'll take some
tea, and whatever else is passing as breakfast today."

"Very good, sir. There's a clean shirt waiting, and I'll have your boots
cleaned by the time you've eaten."

Edrington smiled for the first time that morning. "God bless you,
Andrews! There is just one thing more that could make this morning

"What would that be, sir?"

"Please tell me that there is hot water for shaving."

Andrews laughed out loud. He had long ago lost his awe of his
aristocratic commander. "I'll see to the hot water as well, sir." He
noticed the stiff way the colonel held his right arm. "And I'll send
Sergeant Owen to take care of your shoulder, sir." And he ducked out of
the tent before Edrington could protest.

"I don't bloody need..." It was too late; Andrews was already gone.
Edrington shook his head and smiled slightly in bemusement. He would
never understand the care that Andrews gave him, but he accepted it and
even thrived on it. When he had been given his new command he hadn't
hesitated to bring Andrews with him. True, the man's mother hen
instincts could grate on the nerves, but he made up for it in other ways.

Andrews' wisdom in sending for Sergeant Owen was immediately apparent
when Edrington tried to pull his soiled shirt over his head. Pain
exploded in his shoulder and lanced down his right arm.

"God damn and blast!" he hissed as sweat broke out on his forehead. He
sat heavily on the bed and waited for the pain to recede.

"That bad, is it?"

Edrington looked toward the tent's opening to find his brother standing
there. "What the devil are you doing here? Can't you make enough
trouble with the cavalry?"

Captain The Honourable William Edrington blithely ignored his brother's
sarcasm and entered the tent. "Do you need help with that?" he asked.

"No, I do NOT need help!" Edrington bellowed just as Owen stuck his head
under the flap. He just as quickly ducked back out, but not before the
colonel caught sight of him. "Owen!"

The young man's voice came from outside the tent. "Yes, m'lord?"

Edrington sighed. "You did come here to do a job, did you not sergeant?"
When no reply came from outside he continued. "Then please come inside
and do it!"

Owen came inside the tent with a bundle of linen for bandages and a flask
of brandy. The son of a country doctor, he had joined the army when his
family fell on hard times. He used the small skills he had learned from
his father to treat minor wounds, and was much preferred over the
battalion surgeon, who was as mean-spirited a man as any Edrington had
ever seen.

Owen was just one of many men in the battalion who still went in awe of
their new commander. He was hesitant as he approached, and Edrington's
patience was sapped by the pain in his shoulder.

"Well, get on with it, man!"

Owen recoiled in surprise and dropped the flask to the ground. Without
missing a beat William bent and picked up the flask. He placed it back
in the sergeant's hands. and said, "You'll have to forgive my brother;
he's always a bear in the morning." He smiled at the younger man.
"Nothing to fear, I assure you. He stopped eating colour sergeants over
a year ago. Didn't you, Hal?"

Edrington glared at his brother, scrubbed a hand on his face and pushed
his tousled blonde hair out of his eyes. He met Owen's eyes and forced
himself to smile.

"I do apologize, Owen. But this wound does hurt, and the pain makes my
temper short." He ignored his brother's derisive snort. "Please, do
what you need to do."

Though still wary Owen gave a small smile and came into the tent. He
helped Edrington pull the shirt over his head and set to work unwinding
the bandages. A few winces and grunts were the only reaction as the old
and soiled linen came free of the wound. As the last bit of cloth came
free William caught his breath at the sight. He met his brother's eyes,
shocked momentarily into silence.

"My God Hal! Why didn't you tell me it was this serious?"

Now that he was engaged in a duty he felt comfortable with, Sergeant Owen
spoke out without a trace of his previous nervousness. "Don't fret,
Captain." His heavy Cornish accent gave his words a mellow tone. "Its
not as bad as it looks - just needs a good cleaning, is all."

Private Andrews entered the tent just then with the promised hot water,
and Owen took charge of the bowl. He picked a piece of linen off his
pile of scraps, dipped it in the water, and set to work cleaning
Edrington's wound. As the dried blood came off, William saw that Owen
had indeed spoken truly: it wasn't as bad as it looked.

Edrington sat quietly under Sergeant Owen's ministrations and explained
to his brother how he had come by the injury. "Some young and ambitious
Frenchman, no doubt thinking he could make a name for himself by killing
a British officer. Lucky for me it was fairly long range, and he used a
pistol at that! Otherwise I might... Damnit, Owen! I was supposed to
shave with that water!"

Andrews paled at the shout. "I'll fetch more, m'lord." And he scurried
out of the tent.

Owen, supremely unaware of any rebuke from his commander, continued
rinsing his cloth in the bowl. It stained the water a rusty brown as he
repeatedly dunked it until the wound was completely clean. As he worked
he completed Edrington's thought.

"Otherwise you might have, at the least, a broken shoulder. You were
lucky, m'lord."

"Yes, thank you, Owen. I hadn't yet figured that part out!"

Owen picked up another strip of linen, folded it into a pad, and uncapped
the flask of brandy. William watched as the sergeant poured the brandy
onto the linen, fascinated.

"What is that for, Sergeant?"

Owen pressed the pad against Edrington's shoulder, who sucked in his
breath in response. Only when the colonel had subsided did Owen answer
Captain Edrington's question. "It helps the wound heal clean, sir. I
don't rightly understand why, but my father swears by it. He says
whiskey works as well, and rum will do in a pinch."

"Hmmm." William said, considering. "Seems like a terrible waste of good
brandy, if you ask me."

"I don't recall anyone asking you." Edrington said, but he didn't shout,
and he seemed soothed by the efforts of the younger man. He looked up at
his brother from under hooded eyelids. "Did you come here for any
particular reason, Captain, or are you just out to annoy me?"

William had the good grace to appear abashed at his brother's words. But
with his customary straightforwardness he came to the point of his visit.

"I was wondering if you'd heard from Sarah recently, and, if so, will she
be coming out to Spain for Christmas this year?"

Edrington sat in stillness while Owen finished placing a clean bandage on
his wound. When the young man would have launched into a lecture on
taking care of himself, the colonel held up his hand. "Thank you, Owen;
that feels much better." And with a nod of his head indicated that the
sergeant should leave.

"I suppose what you really want to know is are your daughters going to
make the trip out?" He paused in his speech to tug on a clean shirt.
"Honestly, William. Don't you ever read the letters from your

William shrugged. "No. I don't really have time for that. Besides
we're usually out riding on patrol and don't see very much mail."

With an exasperated sigh Edrington walked to his trunk. He pulled out a
packet of letters and slapped them into his brother's hand. "Here." he
said. "A whole month's worth of letters from Sarah and a few from
Archie. Read." And he swung his uniform jacket over his shoulders and
walked out of the tent.

"What regiment is that?"

The question startled Sergeant Patrick Harper out of his doze. It was a
hot day, unusually hot for October, and the South Essex was taking some
rest on the march. The midday sun bounced off the barren landscape with
a fierceness that made his eyes ache, so as soon as the halt had been
called he had collapsed on the ground and tilted his shako to cover his
eyes. He looked up now and saw the men referred to. He recognized the
unusual shade of blue on their uniform facings.

"86th. Cornwall lads." was the Irishman's laconic answer. He put his
shako back over his eyes.

Captain Richard Sharpe looked down at the sergeant. One side of his
mouth quirked up in the slightest of smiles. "What? No long-winded
story about how you recognize them? No connection to your dear, old
granda in Galway?" A muffled snort was all the response he got. He
turned his attention back to the approaching battalion. "I've not heard
of them before. Is it a new battalion?"

Resigned to the disturbance of his nap, Harper sat up and turned his head
in the direction that Sharpe was looking. With a careful and knowing eye
he sized up the Cornish men. "No" he answered. "Not a new battalion,
exactly. I heard that Horse Guards pieced the 86th together out of
leftover companies from six other Cornwall regiments, plus a few new

Sharpe nodded in understanding; it was a standard practice. "The flotsam
of the army, eh?" he asked, grinning. "Rather like us." And he nodded
at the other riflemen that were gathered in a group around himself and
Harper. They had all been a part of the 95th Rifles, an elite regiment,
until the heinous winter of 1808-09. This small group had gotten
detached, and while they had struggled to reach to coast of Portugal the
rest of the 95th had gone home. They were left behind, tossed from one
assignment to the next, until Talavera. They had shored up the South
Essex's Light Company for that battle, and had been there ever since.
More than three years.

"Who's the colonel?" he asked, nodding towards a man mounted on a
beautiful roan horse. Even as they watched, the colonel removed his hat
to wipe the sweat from his brow. His blonde hair caught the sunlight.
Sharpe studied him for a moment before continuing. "He looks young." He
turned to Harper, his best source for any and all army gossip. "Any idea
who he is?"

Harper shook his head. "None, sir. Don't think I've ever seen him
before." He studied the man closely. "Looks like a good un, though,
don't he, lads?" he asked loudly enough to be heard by most of the light

It seemed as if the unknown colonel heard the words, because he turned
and look toward where the South Essex rested alongside the road. He was
obviously taking note of their rather sad and bedraggled condition.
Especially as it compared to his own spit and polish presence. He rode a
few yards further down the road before turning back toward his men.
Immediately the other officers started chivvying the soldiers back to
their march.

As the Cornwall regiment passed by Sharpe stared unabashedly at their
colonel. He had been right; the man was young, scarcely older than
Sharpe himself. Underneath his tan his face was pasty, as if he were ill
or wounded. He looked down from his horse, and Sharpe was caught by the
expression in his intense brown eyes. Intelligence, humour, and a
measure of disdain were all visible there. It immediately made Captain
Sharpe's hackles rise.

A fop, he said to himself. A worthless, idiotic fop. Worse! Probably a
worthless, idiotic and titled fop. He laughed out loud.

Harper looked at his officer questioningly. Sharpe shook his head and
got to his feet.

"Let's just be glad we don't have to serve with him, right lads?"
Free Web Hosting