Not For Honour Alone, Part 25
"Well, at last its down to just you and me." Harlan said with a sneer. "Time to see what kind of man you really are, my lord." He gave Edrington the honorific in a voice that overflowed with contempt and disgust.
Edrington stood still, waiting for his breathing to return to normal. His heart was still hammering; the barrel of the pistol looked huge as he faced it. He swallowed against the fear he felt building.
"Put the pistol down, Harlan." he ordered, gratified that his voice was steady. "There's no need for that."
"I beg to differ, sir. There's every need for it. The way I see it, this pistol is my only chance. Nosey may not want to charge me with manslaughter in place of Andrews, but he's certainly not going to allow me to keep my commission." He smiled coldly. "At least this way I can go on my own terms, and take you with me."
"But why?" Edrington asked, at last giving voice to the question that had been tormenting him for days. "It makes no sense. What could you have hoped to gain by disgracing me? No amount of dishonour heaped on my head would restore your brother's good name."
"Maybe not, but it would make him feel better. He never forgot you, you see. Whenever the subject of his own service came up he would always mention that 'snotty Ensign Edrington'. You were to blame for all that happened to him. When I learned that you were to take command of the 86th I saw my chance. I can never restore his good name, you're right about that. But I can ensure that you never again have the pleasure of yours." He cocked the pistol. "Come hell or high water, I'll ensure that you never again have your good name."
The pistol barrel came up until Edrington was staring straight down it. His heart was in his throat as he realized that he was very likely going to die. He sent a mental apology out to his wife; I'm sorry, my love. I've always been a fool.
Edrington barely heard the shout and the running steps behind him. He felt another body crash into him just as smoke and flame jetted from the barrel of the pistol. He heard the crack a split second later and felt the wind as the ball passed within inches of his left ear.
He fell heavily. The pain that lanced outward from his right shoulder was so intense he blacked out. When he came to his senses he saw Kennedy and William above him, concern creasing their faces. They looked so comically identical that he was tempted to laugh. The laugh came out as a shout, however, as agony erupted in his right shoulder. He tried to sit up.
"Don't move just yet, sir. Your shoulder's dislocated."
Sergeant Owen, calm and patient as ever. "Sirs, if you could hold him down, please. No, Mister Kennedy, put your hand here. Yes, that should do it..."
Again the white-hot pain came. Stars danced before his eyes, his head swam, and he bit back a flood of nausea. When his vision cleared he met Owen's eyes. The young man was smiling, albeit wanly.
"Good as new, my lord." he said.
Edrington decided against testing the truth of Owen's statement. At the rate my life is going, he thought to himself, I'll barely have any function left in this arm by year's end. He glanced around the circle of concerned faces bent over him, searching for the one he felt sure would be in the foreground.
He turned to William. "Where's Andrews?" he asked.
William swallowed hard. "Hal..." He couldn't meet his brother's eyes, and even Kennedy looked away. Owen was the only one who met Edrington's gaze squarely.
"He saved your life, sir. Harlan shot him instead of you."
That bald statement reeled in Edrington's head. He knew that someone had pushed him out of the path of the shot, he had just never thought....
His mind balked at completing the sentence. "Is he all right?" he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
Owen could only shake his head.
"He's dying, Hal." Kennedy responded, his voice gentle.
Edrington blinked rapidly several times. It was a moment before he trusted himself to speak.
"I want to see him." was all he said.
No one was willing to argue with him. William and Owen helped him to his feet and led him to a spot a few yards away. Andrews lay on the ground, his coat turning a darker shade of crimson just beneath his heart. The mist over his eyes cleared when his commander sank to his knees beside him. He reached out a bloodstained hand and clasped Edrington's.
"I'm sorry, sir." he whispered. "For everything. I let Harlan lead me astray; I never should have listened to him." He coughed several times, pink-tinged spittle dotting the corners of his mouth. "It was all my fault." he continued, his voice getting noticeably weaker.
"No, Andrews." Edrington soothed him, laying a gentle hand on the young man's forehead. "It was nobody's fault except Harlan's. Not yours, not mine. He bears the blame alone."
Andrews laughed slightly, grimacing in pain. "Its a nice thought, my lord, even if its not true." Edrington started to protest but Andrews shook his head. "I wanted to prove myself one last time. To show that I was worthy of all your trust in me." His gaze left Edrington's for a moment. "I'm sorry, sir." he repeated.
Edrington looked up to see Captain Sharpe drop to one knee on Andrews' other side.
"So am I, Andrews." Sharpe said quietly, reaching out with one hand and closing Andrews' lifeless eyes.
Edrington laid the limp hand he clasped against Andrews' still chest. "You were always worthy, Andrews." he said.
"Major Hawkins?" Wellington's voice could be heard over the assembled crowd. "Arrest Major James Harlan on charges of murder. I'll see it done right this time."
Edrington staggered to his feet, supported by Sharpe. His shoulder ached more fiercely than he could have imagined possible, but he held himself rigidly upright as he confronted his second-in-command.
Harlan was surrounded by men with loaded muskets. With an ironic smile Edrington saw that they were the same men who had arrested Sharpe, Harper, Owen and himself the previous day. They looked sheepish now as they met his eyes, but he ignored them as he stepped closer to Harlan. He stopped only when he was so close to Harlan that he could feel the other man's breath against his face. His intense brown eyes met Harlan's pale grey ones.
"I'll see it done right this time." he repeated Wellington's parting words. Then without another glance he turned and walked stiffly away.
He heard hoofbeats approaching but ignored the sound. He was in agony both physical and emotional and didn't want to see or speak to anyone.
He heard the question but kept walking. Its a dream, he told himself. Its always been a dream.
"I never thought I'd see the day when you ignored me."
Something in those words penetrated the haze surrounding him. He stopped and looked up, his eyes dazzled by the sunlight. Silhouetted against that light he saw a tall, lithe figure dismount and take some steps towards him. His heart thumped in his chest; he shook his head, scarcely believing what he was seeing.
"Sarah..." he breathed. "Sarah?" he asked, louder this time. He took a tentative step forward. "Please tell me I'm not dreaming." He looked past her and saw, still mounted on four small ponies, his children. When his gaze reached them they quickly clambered off their mounts and ran towards their father.
Edrington fell to his knees and met the onrush of his tow-headed
brood with open arms. He held the four of them tightly to him,
ignoring their squealing protests that he was crushing them.
He felt Sarah lean against his back, and he began to cry. Tears
of sorrow for all that was wrong in the world, and tears of joy
for all that was right.
Finis! At last; its kind of hard to believe that I spent more than a year working on this one. I hope it doesn't disappoint.