Ay up, lads n lasses!
This is my first fan-fic - please read and enjoy. I notice there's no category under Movies, Books or TV for 'Sharpe' stories, so perhaps this one is the first. It will not be my last.
Mardy Lass (Nov. 2006)
"Looks fine, sir," Harper said, approaching the small campfire. Major Sharpe was sitting at the small tripod, tea urn in hand, about to pour a fresh cup. He looked up.
"What does?" he asked, pouring the tea and handing it to Harper as he sat. The big Irishman looked at it dubiously.
"The supplies that just arrived by mule, sir, a grand turn-out," he said. He looked back at the tea. "Aaiii, but you have a lot to learn about making tea, sir."
The Major spared him a glance before pouring his own tea, setting the urn back on the tripod.
"Well if you'd been here brewin' it instead of farting about with donkeys, we both would have had a better cup," he observed brusquely.
"Yes sir," Harper said obediently. He sniffed at the cup, keeping his eyes on it. Something told him he wasn't to break any more silence. He got comfortable on his camp stool and looked around.
Men were decamped and pretty much taking the boots by the straps; uniform tunics were hung impudently on rifles and muskets as their owners lounged around the grass in the darkness. The tents, arranged in a perfectly straight line, moved in the slight breeze and the fronts flapped quietly. The sound of singing, far off, wafted over the two men's small campfire, made all the more welcome by the lateness of the hour. Someone joined in and they heard men laughing and joking at some other squaddie's expense.
Harper sniffed and looked at the flames in front of him. The tips broke away and floated around, drifting on the slight breeze. They snapped and crackled, punctuating the derisory exchanges of young men making good use of what short time they thought they had.
"Thinking of home, sir?" he asked gamely, wondering just what was provoking the superior officer's slightly sullen look.
"England's a long way off, to be sure, but remember Ireland's further still," he said, trying, as always, to prove this man had it easier than he.
"Home's not a place," Sharpe said quietly. Harper nodded.
"Well then, you'll be wanting to think of your fond memories by yourself, sir." He drained the tea cup, not because he wanted to, but to soften the blow of his earlier criticism. The tea, as he had suspected, was vile, and he suddenly wished his criticism had been much harsher after all.
"I hate fond memories," Sharpe said suddenly, just as quietly, and Harper sighed, reaching out for the tea urn.
Here we go, he thought to himself. Guess I'm not excused just yet. "You don't mean that, sir," he said. He leaned over and checked, but Sharpe hadn't even started on his tea. He set the urn back on the tripod over the flames.
"Yeah, I do," he said.
"But, pardon me for pointing it out sir, you've more fond memories than the rest of us. Especially of the ladies, sir."
"Given a choice between the memories and a real live girl, I'll take the girl every time," he admitted.
"I'm sure you would sir, and what hot-blooded soldier wouldn't?" he quipped, and was surprised by the sudden loud laughter from the Major. He looked at him, trying to remember the last time he had heard him laugh like that.
"Speaking of which, where's Ramona?" he asked. "Shouldn't you be trying to convince her she were right to marry you?" he asked cheekily. Harper smiled, glad to have lifted his spirits.
"She's with a few of the other Spanish girls, sir. Talking, so they are," he said conspiratorially. "Best I not get involved."
"Oh aye? What about?" he asked lightly.
"Men, sir. Oh, you thought soldiers could moan, but sweet Mary Mother of God, you've never heard anyone go on like women can, sir." He sniffed at Sharpe's laughter. "My mother would be red in the face just knowing they were together, talking away like that, so she would." Sharpe laughed louder, straightening in his seat. "The thought of any wife of mine behaving like that, or yours," he added, trying to take some of the enjoyment from his commanding officer's good humour. He realized, too late, that perhaps that had not been the best way to do it. Sharpe's face had stilled and then the wide grin had shrunk. Harper tutted. "Oh Jeez, but I'm sorry sir. Me and me big mouth, sir. Comes from having –"
"Shut it, Pat," Sharpe said quietly. "It dunt matter."
"You think we'll make this town thing tomorrow?" he asked, trying to change the subject.
"Nope." He swilled the tea in the cup, raising it to drink. He hesitated. "That new Colonel will bugger it up and we'll be camping somewhere much like this tomorrow night," he said thoughtfully. He let his arm drop, the tea forgotten.
"He doesn't look the type to be able to read a map, sir," he said reassuringly.
"Who needs to read maps?" he demanded, "He dunt know his arse from his elbow, that one. How you can get through three years of soldiering and not know where a musket ball goes, I can't fathom," he said, shaking his head and wheezing air through his teeth.
"Where is this place, sir?"
"I don't know. I'm buggered if I can remember the name of it. Something foreign," he shrugged, embarrassed at not knowing how to read the name written across the map in his pocket.
"Ah. That'll be on account of you English not having conquered it before, then," Harper grinned.
"Oh, you never know," Sharpe said, and Harper dreaded the next few words, knowing as he did they would be the Major's attempt at levity, "we might get there and find the name's been changed to New Rotherham."
Harper sighed. Sharpe raised his cup to drink, but they heard heavy footfalls and looked up to find the new Colonel approaching. He let his tea wait.
"Bloody hell," he muttered under his breath. The Colonel, a portly little man of no more than five feet, marched over haughtily and stopped by the fire.
"Gentlemen," he boomed, in a friendly voice that seemed to carry over the entire camp.
"Evening, Colonel Parker, sir," Harper said in a very friendly manner, getting to his feet. Sharpe rose slowly, nodding.
"Colonel," he said dutifully.
"Planning the day ahead, I see," the Colonel grinned.
"Yes sir," Sharpe said non-commitedly.
"Good man. I'll need a favour tomorrow, Major. Seems we have men arriving – cartographers – and they'll need an escort. Civilians, you see, not used to all this marching and camping malarkey. You'll see to them, won't you Major?" he asked.
"Of course sir," he said, careful his face did not belie his annoyance.
"Marvellous. Just three of them, Major, nothing your Chosen Men can't handle, I fancy. Apparently they're to accompany us to some village. The General thinks perhaps they could plot some routes for us too, if you please! Hardly seems necessary, what? We know where we're going, just wish Wellington would remember that," he said, his good cheer sliding off for a second. Harper opened his mouth but Sharpe was quicker.
"I'm sure we'll show him, sir," he said, and the Colonel grinned at him.
"So we shall, Major, so we shall. God, I'm glad we're working together, man. My brains and your brawn, eh?" he grinned. Again, Harper opened his mouth but it was Sharpe who spoke.
"Yes sir," he said obediently. Colonel Parker nodded.
"Good man. Well then, as you were," he said, nodding and turning with a flourish. He marched away and Sharpe huffed as he sat down again.
"Bloody civvi-minding again," he tutted. Harper sighed.
"Well, maybe it won't be all that bad, sir. Perhaps one of them's Irish."
Sharpe looked at the big Irishman's face, then just let all the annoyance go and let a small smile crack his stern features. Always trying to find the bright side, eh.
"Go on, Pat, bugger off. I'm going to bed," he said, standing again. Harper looked at his tea cup in his hand. He grinned, then wiped it off.
"But you've not finished your tea, sir," he said innocently. Sharpe looked at him and then got that look in his eye, sticking his chin out obstinately. Keeping his eyes on Harper's, he reached his hand out and tipped the tea on the campfire. Through the hiss and grey smoke, Sharpe sniffed and handed Harper back the cup.
"Sometimes you have to sacrifice small comforts in the name of safety," he said smugly, turning away.
"Well there's no need to be such a smarmy shite," Harper muttered, and Sharpe turned back to him quickly. "I'll be making the tea tomorrow night," he said more loudly, and Sharpe nodded.
"'Night Pat," he said suspiciously, turning and walking to his tent, sliding his tunic off before flipping the opening wider and ducking inside.
Harper watched him go, then grinned to himself.