This is the re-post -- apologies for the original one being all bunched up.
"A little more to the left, sir!" Harper shouted. Sharpe leaned out carefully, stretching as if his life depended on it, but it was still out of reach. "Come on, sir, you're not trying!" Harper shouted, frustrated.
"This int as easy at it looks, you know," Sharpe shot back, annoyed. "Why aren't you up here getting it back?" he demanded, even as he shifted his grip on the tree branch and leaned perilously far from anything resembling safety. Harper looked at his feet, then back up the tree to where the Major was shifting gingerly down the tree branch, twenty feet from the ground.
"Cos you're much quicker on your feet, sir," he admitted. Oh yes, me up a tree, that'll be the day, Harper grinned to himself. There was a cracking sound. "Sir!" he shouted.
"Nearly – nearly – come here, yer bugger!" Sharpe hissed, his fingers brushing the heavy silk ever so slightly. He made a desperate lunge for it and missed.
"Er, sir? I think you should get back a –"
"Damn it, man!" Sharpe shouted at him, not tearing his eyes from the target. He inched his left hand further out along the branch. "I were nearly there!"
"Sir! I really think you should leave –"
Sharpe lunged for the silk, had a good hold, and grinned. "There! Got you, yer little –"
There was an almighty ripping sound, the noise of a four-inch-thick branch tearing itself from the trunk. Sharpe made a desperate grab for another branch with his right hand, now enclosing the silk he'd risked his life for. His hand closed on the branch securely. At the same moment the branch supporting his feet began to distance itself from the trunk. Sharpe found himself dangling by his hands, one of them slipping on the silk, the branch under his feet peeling away. It crashed down, Harper jumping back out of its way hurriedly.
Sharpe muttered something unkind under his breath and then looked around for any other branch that might be of use.
"Bloody hell! Look at that!" Rifleman Brown shouted, and the rest of the Chosen Men came running. Harris slid to a stop in the dirt, hastily buttoning his shirt from his morning wash.
"Now… sir? I think it'd be a good idea not to move," he called up. Moore and Hagman appeared. They just stood and stared up at Sharpe, hanging from the tree by his hands, the slight breeze blowing the large, silken colours of the South Essex Regiment around him.
"Oh yes, well done!" Sharpe shouted sarcastically. "Any other bright ideas?" he demanded. He looked to his right, saw a branch not too far from the trunk, and realised he didn't really have a choice. He took his right hand from the branch, and he heard Hagman mutter something. He shoved the corner of the colours in his mouth, then put his hand back to the branch. He shifted down it two-handed.
"Oh well done, sir," Harper said nervously. Sharpe growled something but the colours obscured everything, something which made Harper quite glad. There was a loud creaking sound and Sharpe stopped abruptly. "Oh shite," Harper moaned. Sharpe sighed, long and loudly through his nose.
I should have known. The rest of me week's been like this, why should today be any different?
The creaking got louder, and Sharpe was unsurprised to feel the branch he had hold of leaning down slightly. He cursed, spat out the silk, and watched it twirl gracefully between his feet to make its way toward the ground. He looked up. The branch gave a great wrenching sound and gave way.
Sharpe did not twirl gracefully to the ground.
He plummeted like a mis-timed joke, overtaking the silk colours easily. Before he had a chance to even acknowledge his hands were empty, he felt something smack into him with untold force. His side and shoulder took the brunt of the slam into the hard Spanish dirt. The force bounced him onto his back, the dust fluttering up around him.
The first thing he noticed was that the breath was pushed from him as if someone had squeezed him with an elephant. The next thing he noticed was the pain. He realised he couldn't see, but that mystery was soon cleared up. Something was dragged off his head, and he realised it was the large regimental colours of the South Essex being removed.
"Oh shite, sir, oh Mary Mother of God!" Harper cried as he dragged the silk away from him. "Can you move, sir?" he asked, finding him spread-eagled on his back, staring up at the sky. Sharpe just coughed raggedly, desperately sucking in air.
"He's winded," Harris called out over Harper's shoulder. "Let me see."
Harper got up from his knee and Harris pushed his way to Sharpe's side, who was still trying to breathe. Harris looked him up and down.
"Well, can't see any blood, and there are no bones hanging out," he said confidently. He peered at Sharpe's face, which suddenly seemed pale. "Sir?" he said cheerfully. "Sir? Can you hear me?"
"O' course I –" he stopped, coughing abruptly – "yeah," he snapped, still sounding short of breath.
"Good," he beamed. "Right then, sir, I'm just going to check you haven't broken anything. Tell me if something hurts, alright sir?" he asked. Sharpe appeared to ignore him, still sucking in air like it would be deducted from his pay if not used. Harris bent over him, squeezing his knees, then his elbows. Sharpe didn't respond, just breathed. Harris looked at him, shaking his head.
"Well?" Harper demanded from behind him. Moore and Hagman looked at each other as Robinson and Taylor came running.
"What's going on?" Taylor cried, looking around. Hagman sighed.
"The Major was getting the colours back," he said sadly, shaking his head and turning away. Taylor rushed up and banged into the back of Harper. He had to step forward to steady himself. It pushed into Harris, who automatically put a hand out to stop himself falling forwards. His hand landed on Sharpe's chest heavily, taking Harris' weight.
The resulting bellow made every man fair jump out of his skin. Taylor sprang back, rattled by the bestial shout of pain. He looked up at Harper as the big Irishman turned and reached down for him. He caught his jacket up in his ham fist and dragged the rifleman to his feet.
"You! Run! And pray he doesn't get up!" he shouted in his face. Taylor turned and scrambled off, running as fast as his legs would carry him. Harper turned and looked at Hagman. "Dan, fetch the surgeon," he said. "Doesn't sound like he should be moving by himself," he said darkly. Hagman nodded curtly and grabbed Moore's jacket by the shoulder, pulling him after him. Harper turned and peered over Harris' shoulder, down at Sharpe's face.
His eyes were closed, his face the colour of pipeclay, running with sweat. Harper cursed as he noticed his shoulders quivering slightly. Still Sharpe said nothing, but just lay there, breathing falteringly.
"Well?" Harper asked. Harris watched him, then turned and looked at Harper.
"Looks like his ribs," he said quietly. "Hopefully, just bruised a bit, but didn't sound like it. If one of them is broken, or maybe two, it means at least a few weeks of pain with him not being able to move. He's not going to like that," he admitted. Harper huffed, then nodded.
"Sir?" he called out. Sharpe opened one eye to look up, not necessarily at anyone. "Ribs, is it sir?" he asked with false cheer.
"Bastard," he breathed.
"Oh, he's alright, so he is," Harper said flatly, then blew out a sigh and shook his head. He turned and walked back a few steps, looking at the silk all bundled up in a heap. He shook his head again, then turned to find Harris getting to his feet. Harris walked up to him, pulling his elbow and walking further away.
"I hope it's just his ribs, Harps," he said quietly. Harper let his fear show on his face.
"What's that supposed to mean?" he asked.
"Well, he took a hard lump to the head, too. And that's never a good thing."
Harper and Harris knelt and peered over Sharpe, studying him and tutting wretchedly. Sharpe seemed oblivious to any activity.
After what seemed like an eternity, Hagman and Moore returned with the camp surgeon, who was angrily stalking across the grass like he had much better things to do. Hagman and Moore had to hurry to keep up with the spritely old man.
He stopped and looked the two men, kneeling over the stricken one. He spied Harper's sleeve and cleared his throat.
"You are the Sergeant Major?" he asked imperiously. Harper got to his feet quickly.
"That I am, sir. He took a fall from that –"
"Yes, yes, move," he commanded, waving his hands at him. Harper and Harris backed away. The surgeon knelt and then leaned over Sharpe's face. "Well? Who are you, son?" he called.
"Not deaf," Sharpe managed, sounding very much out of breath. "Sharpe," he added. The doctor nodded, then turned and pressed and prodded nearly everything, working his way up from Sharpe's ankles. He reached his chest and deliberately missed it out, skipping to his shoulders. He squeezed on his right shoulder and Sharpe jerked in pain. The surgeon nodded wisely, then felt his neck carefully.
"Right then," he said abruptly, leaning back and nodding. "Not too much damage, by the looks of it. Just a bang on the shoulder and some ribs, I rather fancy," he said. He looked at Sharpe. "Now this will hurt," he said seriously. Sharpe cast him a look that would have made a rabid dog think twice. The surgeon slowly put his hands to his chest and patted them round slowly. He reached the sides and patted harder. Sharpe whimpered and grunted something uncharitable, wheezing in air as best he could. The doctor got to his feet, then tipped a finger at Harper. "Not broken, but nearly," he said quietly. "We need to carry him back to his tent. He's not moving off his back for the next two weeks," he said. Harper nodded.
He turned to Hagman and Moore, instructed them to find something on which to carry the Major, and then stood talking to the surgeon for a long time.
"And Mrs Fuller, she say all the children run like animals, nobody to school them, their fathers in the South Essex, their mothers wash for the regiment," Ramona said disapprovingly. "I say this to Harper, he does nothing. I say, 'you want your little Patrick grow up like this?', he say 'I busy'," she went on.
Sharpe stared at the ceiling of his tent, wondering idly if he should get the seams re-waxed. Autumn's drawing on, and that means rain.
"I think I talk to him, make him say something to the other men, make them take charge of their children," Ramona said, then looked at Sharpe. "You think so?" she asked.
"Yeah, before it rains," he said absently. She nodded.
"Yes, before the rain come," she said wisely, then looked back at him. "Ok, I make you tired. You sleep, I do some washing," she said, leaning over and moving the pillow up for him. "Be a good boy, don't move," she said, then got up and walked to the tent flaps. She stopped, smiling. "You know, you are good listener," she said, then ducked out of the tent.
Sharpe desperately wanted to sigh with boredom, but he didn't dare breathe in that deeply. It hurt to breathe as it was, and that was his best shallow draws that didn't tax his screaming bones too much. He'd worked out that if he didn't breathe deeply enough to feel the bandage tighten over him, then it didn't hurt so much. It was hard; he kept losing concentration and breathing automatically, and then the stabbing pains would make him gasp, and that would only exacerbate the whole thing.
I'll kill that Irish –
"Oh sir, here you are, right as rain," Harper said, ducking into the tent. "We've got you some tea, sir, with something a little extra in it," he added.
"Great," he ground out. Harper walked over, sitting on Ramona's stool. He leaned over.
"You're going to have to sit, sir," he said apologetically. Sharpe wondered if it was all worth it just for a cup of tea. "Come on, we had the surgeon put a wee drop of something in it to dull the pain a bit, sir," he said cheerfully. He put his free hand under Sharpe's arm and braced him, helping him to ouch and whimper his way to a slight sitting position. Harper waited while he let his head fall back to the pillow, clearly trying not to scream with agony. "Here we go then," he said, reaching out and helping him take a sip of the tea slowly. He swallowed it and then let his head fall back again, his jaw muscles working on the inside of his cheek. He was quiet a few moments.
"S'alright," he admitted eventually, and Harper smiled proudly, knowing that was the highest praise the Major could manage. He sniffed gingerly.
"Jeez sir, I know it must hurt like Hell. I saw you fall, sir, and sweet Jesus, but I didn't know what to do. You just fell so fast," he said wretchedly, then leaned forward and helped him take another few sips. He waited while Sharpe relaxed against the headboard again.
"Why was it up there?" he bit out.
"Well, sir, a couple of the Essex lads –"
"And you," he shot at him.
"Well, yes, and me, sir. We were telling tall stories, sir, about flags and climbing and –"
"You got pissed, and challenged each other to chuck a flag up in some bastard tree?" he demanded, sounding short of breath. Harper couldn't meet his eyes.
"And you stood there and watched me climb up there and get it?" he demanded.
"When really I should have had you all up to the Colonel fer arsing about?" Sharpe snapped. Harper watched his feet intently.
"That you should, sir, that you should," he said quietly. Sharpe pursed his lips in a way that spoke volumes of invectives, then looked back at the ceiling. It was quiet for a long moment.
"Well at least I'm not dead," he huffed. Harper grinned.
"And you've got two weeks on your back, sir," he said. "You know how soldiers dream about getting two weeks flat on their back," he said.
"It's no fun on yer own," Sharpe muttered sourly, then looked at him. "Come on, give us the tea and bugger off," he said. Harper leaned over and Sharpe took the cup off him. He drained it slowly before handing it back.