Title: The Bargain
A Sharpe/Les Misérables crossover
Disclaimer: Sharpe belongs to Cornwell. Others belong to Hugo. The rest belongs to history.
There was the usual chaos in the mess of baggage and camp followers from two different armies that were now occupying the area around Waterloo. In truth it was three armies, since the French hanger-ons, whose chief concern was where their next meal would be coming from, had also migrated over to mingle with the other camps – those that hadn't fled with the retreating French army. It was the intelligent ones who had stayed. There were far too many French dead in the fields of Waterloo, and the remnants of the French army would be hard pressed to defend their own lives.
Sharpe hadn't expected to find himself there, but it was the early morning after the battle, and he had slipped away from Lucille to sell a pouch full of loot that Patrick Harper had thrust into his hands.
As a respectable horse trader, Patrick shouldn't have been looting, but when Sharpe had asked, all he said was, "It's a bad habit, sir. Wouldn't expect an officer to indulge in it, but there's no harm in taking a stroll 'round the field to fix my memories, as it were."
"And fix your pocket," Sharpe had replied, but he had taken his share anyway. The farm needed a new roof after all.
The coins had been welcome, and the golden necklace with a woman's cameo – doubtless intended as a gift from some officer to his lady after the battle – had since settled around Lucille's neck. But the two signet rings – one gold, one silver – were better sold off quickly since it was doubtful they'd have come from a Frog's hand. One of the "peddlers" amongst the camp followers would be willing to trade him coin for the rings along with the privilege of cheating him.
Most of them shrank away as he walked through the camp though. His uniform was threadbare and faded, with the stink of battle still heavy upon it, but it was enough to intimidate many of the survivors who had taken refuge in the camp. The first two peddlers he approached were unwilling to take the rings and he realised that for once they were taking Nosey's usual ban on selling looted goods seriously.
Finally, he spotted a small, thin man with a gaunt looking face who was smiling at anyone who passed his small hand cart, though his hard eyes showed his true nature. Like any good peddler, the man sensed his approach, giving him a friendly nod.
Sharpe returned it, and made a show of looking over the man's wares. The man in turn looked him over, and Sharpe had the feeling he was being priced to his very boots.
"Monsieur is looking for something for his lady?" asked the man in heavily accented English.
"Non," said Sharpe. "Je vends. Tu les achetes?"
The man's face fell at the mention of selling and buying, but his empty smile was soon back. "Mais oui, Monsieur," he said, and continued on in confident French that Sharpe was hard pressed to follow. "Of course, I shall have to see the goods. My name is Thénardier. I am a business man, but a poor one, and in these troubled times it is all a man can do to support himself." To Sharpe's eyes he looked a French deserter, but he would turn no man in today. "I have a wife to care for and soon, a family." He gestured to the far side of the cart at a large, blonde woman who Sharpe would have taken for a man if not for the dress she wore. More alarming was that when she caught sight of Sharpe looking, she gave him a broad smile and a brazen wink. Around her neck was not one, but three silver crosses which had no doubt been "found" on the battlefield earlier that day.
Sharpe fumbled in his pouch for the signet rings, wanting to conclude this business as quickly as possible. The man watching him had something of Hakeswill about him, and Sharpe's distaste for this deal was growing. If the man was impressed by the gold, he didn't show it.
"A poor choice, Monsieur," he said, even while turning it over and over in his hands. He tossed the gold one to his wife. "I doubt it's real. See, ma cherie?"
She examined it closely. The ring looked tiny in her large hands. "C'est l'or!" she exclaimed excitedly.
"You're wife seems to disagree," said Sharpe. Evidently, they hadn't been married long enough to have worked out their patter – if they were married at all.
"Stupid bitch! Give that back here you fool! Gold plated, most likely. I'll give you ten sou for it, and another five for the tin one."
Sharpe stared at the man. The gold one was worth at least five francs and the silver at least one. He would rather risk keeping the rings, then pay Thénardier that price. "Forget it," he said, and reached to take the rings back. Thénardier shrank from him, clutching the rings protectively.
"So, hasty, Monsieur! I was merely jesting. Thirty sou, for them both."
"You pay no less than a franc each, and be glad of it!" growled Sharpe. His hand was on his sword, and he was perfectly willing to cut through a few fingers to get the rings back if his price wasn't met.
Thénardier's smile finally faded, his glare hard and bitter, but his eyes darted nervously to Sharpe's sword. "One franc for the gold. Thirty sou for the silver!" he insisted.
"Fine!" It was as good a deal as Sharpe could hope for.
Thénardier beckoned his wife over, and she grudgingly gave him the money. There was no more flirtation for which Sharpe was doubly glad. He made a show of counting the money before moving on.
It was only late that evening, while trying to pay his mess debts, that he discovered the franc was a forgery.