As Napoleon threatens to crush Britain on the battlefield, Lt. Col. Richard Sharpe leads a ragtag army to exact personal revenge against a French general known for his acts of terror.
Sharpe's Battle takes Richard Sharpe and his company back to the spring of 1811 and one of the most bitter battles of the Peninsular War, a battle on which all British hopes of victory in Spain will depend. Sharpe is given responsibility to lead an Irish battalion of the king of Spain's household guard, ceremonial troops untrained and unequipped for battle. While quartered in the crumbling fort of San Isidro, they are attacked by murderous Brigadier General Guy Luop's elite French brigade. Sharpe has witnessed General Loup's despicable was crimes before; to put an end to them, and to settle another more personal score, Sharpe must lead his company into the blood-gutted streets of Fuentes de Onoro, where thousands of French troops have amassed, in a battle to the death.
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December 16, 2003
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Excerpt from Sharpe's Battle by Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe swore. Then, in desperation, he turned the map upside down. "Might as well not have a bloody map," he said, "for all the bloody use it is."
"We could light a fire with it," Sergeant Harper suggested. "Good kindling's hard to come by in these hills."
"It's no bloody use for anything else," Sharpe said. The hand-drawn map showed a scatter of villages, a few spidery lines for roads, streams or rivers, and some vague hatchings denoting hills, whereas all Sharpe could see was mountains. No roads or villages, just gray, bleak, rock-littered mountains with peaks shrouded by mists, and valleys cut by streams turned white and full by the spring rains. Sharpe had led his company into the high ground on the border between Spain and Portugal and there become lost. His company, forty soldiers carrying packs, haversacks, cartridge cases and weapons, seemed not to care. They were just grateful for the rest and so sat or lay beside the grassy track. Some lit pipes, others slept, while Captain Richard Sharpe turned the map right side up and then, in anger, crumpled it into a ball. "We're bloody lost," he said and then, in fairness, corrected himself "I'm bloody lost."
"My grand-da got lost once," Harper said helpfully. "He'd bought a bullock from a fellow in Cloghanelly Parish and decided to take a shortcut home across the Derryveagh Mountains. Then the fog rolled in and Grand-da couldn't tell his left from his right. Lost like a wee lamb he was, and then the bullock deserted the ranks and bolted into the fog and jumped clear over a cliff into the Barra Valley. Grand-da said you could hear the poor wee beast bellowing all the way down, thenthere was a thump just like you'd dropped a bagpipe off a church tower, only louder, he said, because he reckoned they must have heard that thump all the way to Ballybofey. We used to laugh about it later, but not at the time. God, no, it was a tragedy at the time. We couldn'tafford to lose a good bullock."
"Jesus bloody wept!" Sharpe interrupted. "I can afford to lose a bloody sergeant who's got nothing better to do than blather on about a bloody bullock!"
"It was a valuable beast!" Harper protested. "Besides, we're lost. We've got nothing better to do than pass the time, sir."
Lieutenant Price had been at the rear of the column, but now joined his commanding officer at the front. "Are we lost, sir?"
"No, Harry, I came here for the hell of it. Wherever the hell this is." Sharpe stared glumly about the damp, bleak valley. He was proud of his sense of direction and his skills at crossing strange country, but now he was comprehensively, utterly lost and the clouds were thick enough to disguise the sun so that be could not even tell which direction was north."We need a compass," he said.
"Or a map?" Lieutenant Price suggested happily.
"We've got a bloody map. Here." Sharpe thrust the balled-up map into the Lieutenant's hands. "Major Hogan drew it for me and I can't make headnor tail out of it."
I was never any good with maps," Price confessed. "I once got lost marching some recruits from Chelmsford to the barracks, and that's a straight road. I had a map that time, too. I think I must have a talent for getting lost."
"My grand-da was like that," Harper said proudly. "He could get lost between one side of a gate and the other. I was telling the captain here about the time he took a bullock up Slieve Snaght. It was dirty weather, see, and he was talking the shortcut--"