Title: Sharpe's Fury
Book Series: New Books
Coming to the UK in October of 2006
Coming to the US in September of 2006
Sharpe's Fury (US Title: Sharpe's Fury)
Product Details (US):
- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Harpercollins (September 1, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN: 0060530480
Product Details (UK):
- Hardcover 288 pages (October 2, 2006)
- Publisher: HarperCollins
- Language: English
- ISBN: 000712015X
Buy Sharpe's Fury:
(click on book to enlarge)
Sharpe's Fury is based on the real events of the winter of 1811 that led to the extraordinary victory of Barossa.
Read an Excerpt of the Book behind the CUT
The fort's gate was thrown open and Bullen led the way through, holding his arms wide to show the French across the river that he meant no harm. The women followed. The track down to the river was rough and stony and the women went slowly until they reached the wooden roadway laid across the pontoons. Sharpe and his men brought up the rear. Harper, his seven-barrelled gun slung next to his rifle, nodded across the river. "There's a reception party, sir," he said, referring to three mounted French officers who had just appeared outside Fort Josephine. They were waiting there, watching the approaching women and soldiers.
A dozen of Sharpe's men were manhandling the cart. Lieutenant Sturridge, the engineer, was with them and he kept flinching because the cart had a skewed axle and constantly lurched to the left. It went more smoothly once they were on the bridge, though the women were nervous of crossing because the whole roadway of planked chesses was vibrating from the pressure of the winter-swollen river as it forced its way between the barge-like pontoons. Dead branches and flotsam were jammed on the upstream side, increasing the pressure and making the water break white about the bluff bows. Each of the big pontoons was held against the current by a pair of thick anchor chains and Sharpe hoped that five barrels of damp powder would prove sufficient to shatter the massive construction. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Harper asked.
"All those poor bastards," Harper said, remembering the awful moment when the pontoon bridge across the Douro had snapped. The roadway had been crowded with folk fleeing the invading French, and hundreds of them had drowned. Sharpe still saw the children in his dreams.
The three French officers were riding down to the bridge's far end now. They waited there and Sharpe hurried past the women. "Jack?" he called to Bullen, "I need you to translate."
Sharpe and Bullen led the way to the Spanish bank. The women followed nervously. The three French officers waited and, as Sharpe drew near, one of them took off his cocked hat in salute. "My name is Lecroix," he introduced himself. He spoke in English. Lecroix was a young man, exquisitely uniformed, with a lean handsome face and very white teeth. "Captain Lecroix of the 8th," he added.
Lecroix's eyes widened slightly, perhaps because Sharpe did not look like a captain. His uniform was torn and dirty and, though he wore a sword, as officers did, the blade was a Heavy Cavalry trooper's weapon which was a huge and unwieldy blade better suited for butchering. He carried a rifle too, and officers did not usually carry longarms. Then there was his face, tanned and scarred, a face you might meet in some foetid alley, not in a salon. It was a frightening face and Lecroix, who was no coward, almost recoiled from the hostility in Sharpe's eyes. "Colonel Vandal," he said, putting the stress on the name's second syllable, "sends his compliments, monsieur, and requests that you permit us to recover our wounded," he paused, glancing at the handcart that had been stripped of the womens' luggage thus revealing the powder kegs, "before you attempt to destroy the bridge."
"Attempt?" Sharpe asked.
Lecroix ignored the scorn. "Or do you intend to leave our wounded for the amusements of the Portuguese?"
Sharpe was tempted to say that any French wounded deserved whatever they got from the Portuguese, but he resisted the urge. The request, he reckoned, was fair enough and so he drew Jack Bullen away far enough so that the French officers could not overhear him. "Go and see the brigadier," he told the lieutenant, "and tell him these buggers want to fetch their wounded over the river before we destroy the bridge."
Bullen set off back across the bridge while two of the French officers started back towards Fort Josephine, followed by all the women except the two Spaniards who, bare-footed and ragged, hurried south down the river's bank. Lecroix watched them go. "Those two didn't want to stay with us?" He sounded surprised.
"They said you captured them."
"We probably did." He took out a leather case of long thin cigars and offered one to Sharpe. Sharpe shook his head, then waited as Lecroix laboriously struck a light with his tinder box. "You did well this morning," the Frenchman said once the cigar was alight.
"Your garrison was asleep," Sharpe said.
Lecroix shrugged. "Garrison troops. No good. Old and sick and tired men." He spat out a shred of tobacco. "But I think you have done all the damage you will do today. You will not break the bridge."
"Cannon," Lecroix said laconically, gesturing at Fort Josephine, "and my Colonel is determined to preserve the bridge, and what my Colonel wants, he gets."
"Vandal," Lecroix corrected Sharpe's pronunciation, "Colonel Vandal of the 8th of the Line. You have heard of him?"
"You should educate yourself, Captain," Lecroix said with a smile, "read the accounts of Austerlitz and be astonished by Colonel Vandal's bravery." "Austerlitz?" Sharpe asked. "What was that?"
Lecroix just shrugged. The womens' luggage was dropped at the bridge's end and Sharpe sent the men back, then followed them until he reached Lieutenant Sturridge who was kicking at the planks on the foredeck of the fourth pontoon from the bank. The timber was rotten and he had managed to make a hole there. The stench of stagnant water came from the hole. "If we widen it," Sturridge said, "then we should be able to blow this one to hell and beyond."
"Sir!" Harper called and Sharpe turned eastwards and saw French infantry coming from Fort Josephine. They were fixing bayonets and forming ranks just outside the fort, but he had no doubt they were coming to the bridge. It was a big company, at least a hundred men. French battalions were divided into six companies, unlike the British who had ten, and this company looked formidable with fixed bayonets. Bloody hell, Sharpe thought, but if the frogs wanted to make a fight of it then they had better hurry because Sturridge, helped by a half dozen of Sharpe's men, was prising off the pontoon's foredeck and Harper was carrying the first powder barrel towards the widening hole.
There was a thunderous sound from the Portuguese side of the bridge and Sharpe saw the brigadier, accompanied by two officers, galloping onto the roadway. More redcoats were coming from the fort, doubling down the stony track, evidently to reinforce Sharpe's men. The brigadier's commandeered stallion was nervous of the vibrating roadway, but Moon was a superb horseman and kept the beast under control. He curbed the horse close to Sharpe. "What the devil's going on?"
"They said they wanted to fetch their wounded, sir."
"So what are those bloody men doing?" Moon looked at the French infantry.
"I reckon they want to stop us blowing the bridge, sir."
"Damn them to hell," Moon said, throwing Sharpe an angry look as if it was Sharpe's fault. "Either they're talking to us or they're fighting us, they can't do both at the same time! There are some bloody rules in war!" He spurred on. Major Gillespie, the brigadier's aide, followed him after giving Sharpe a sympathetic glance. The third horseman was Jack Bullen. "Come on, Bullen!" Moon shouted, "you can interpret for me. My frog ain't up to scratch."
Harper was filling the bows of the fourth pontoon with the barrels and Sturridge had taken off his jacket and was unwinding the slow match coiled about his waist. There was nothing there for Sharpe to do, so he went to where the brigadier was snarling at Lecroix. The immediate cause of the brigadier's anger was that the French infantry company had advanced halfway down the hill and were now arrayed in line facing the bridge. They were no more than a hundred paces away, and were accompanied by three mounted officers. "You can't talk to us about recovering your wounded and make threatening movements at the same time!" Moon snarled.
"I believe, monsieur, those men merely come to collect the wounded." Lecroix said soothingly.
"Not carrying weapons, they don't," Moon said, "and not without my permission! And why the hell have they got fixed bayonets?"
"A misunderstanding, I'm sure," Lecroix said emolliently. "Perhaps you would do us the honour of discussing the matter with my Colonel?" He gestured towards the horsemen waiting behind the French infantry.
But Moon was not going to be summoned by some French colonel. "Tell him to come here," he snarled.
"Or you will send an emissary, perhaps?" Lecroix suggested smoothly, ignoring the brigadier's direct order.
"Oh, for God's sake," Moon snarled. "Major Gillespie? Go and talk sense to the damned man. Tell him he can send one officer and twenty soldiers to recover their wounded. They're not to bring any weapons, but the officer may carry sidearms. Lieutenant?" the brigadier looked at Bullen, "go and translate."
Gillespie and Bullen rode uphill with Lecroix. Meanwhile the light company of the 88th had arrived on the French side of the bridge that was now crowded with soldiers. Sharpe was worried. His own company was on the roadway, guarding Sturridge, and now the 88th's Light Company had joined them, and they all made a prime target for the French company that was in a line of three ranks. Then there were the French gunners watching from the ramparts of Fort Josephine who doubtless had their barrels loaded with grapeshot. Moon had ordered the 88th down to the bridge, but now seemed to realise that they were an embarrassment rather than a reinforcement. "Take your men back to the other side," he called to their captain, then turned around because a single Frenchman was now riding towards the bridge. Gillespie and Bullen, meanwhile, were with the other French officers behind the enemy company.
The French officer curbed his horse twenty paces away and Sharpe assumed this was the renowned Colonel Vandal, the 8th's commanding officer, for he had two heavy gold epaulettes on his blue coat and his cocked hat was crowned with a white pom-pom which seemed a frivolous decoration for a man who looked so baleful. He had a savagely unfriendly face with a narrow black moustache. He appeared to be about Sharpe's age, in his middle thirties and had a force that came from pure anger. He spoke good English in a clipped harsh voice. "You will withdraw to the far bank," he said without any preamble.
"And who the devil are you?" Moon demanded.
"Colonel Henri Vandal," the Frenchman said, "and you will withdraw to the far bank and leave the bridge undamaged." He took a watch from his coat pocket, clicked open the lid and showed the face to the brigadier. "I shall give you one minute before I open fire."
"This is no way to behave," Moon said loftily, "if you wish to fight, Colonel, then you will have the courtesy to return my envoys first."
"Your envoys?" Vandal seemed amused by the word. "I saw no flag of truce."
"Your fellow didn't carry one either!" Moon protested.
"And Captain Lecroix reports that you brought your gunpowder with our women. I could not stop you, of course, without killing women. You risked the womens' lives, I did not, so I assume you have abandoned the rules of civilised warfare. I shall, however, return your officers when you withdraw from the undamaged bridge. You have one minute, monsieur." And with those words Vandal turned his horse and spurred it back up the track.
"Are you holding my men prisoners?" Moon shouted.
"I am!" Vandal called back carelessly.
"There are rules of warfare!" Moon shouted at the retreating Colonel.
"Rules?" Vandal turned, amused. "Rules?" he asked again, then he jerked a single finger at Moon. "War is war," he called, "there are no rules."
"Good God incarnate," Moon said, staring after the retreating Frenchman.
"Blow the bridge, sir?" Sharpe asked stolidly.
Moon was still gazing after Vandal. "They invited us to talk! The bloody man invited us to talk! They can't do this. There are rules!"
"You want us to blow the bridge, sir?" Sharpe asked again..
Moon appeared not to hear. "He has to return Gillespie and your lieutenant," he said, "God damn it, there are rules!"
"He's not going to return them, sir," Sharpe said.
Moon frowned from the saddle. He appeared puzzled, as if he did not know how he was to deal with Vandal's treachery. "He can't keep them prisoner!" he protested.
"He's going to keep them, sir, unless you tell me to leave the bridge intact."
Moon hesitated, but then recalled that his future career, with all its dazzling rewards, depended on the bridge's destruction. "Blow the bridge," he said harshly.
"Back!" Sharpe turned and shouted at his men. "Get back! Mister Sturridge! Light the fuse!"
"Bloody hell!" The brigadier suddenly realised he was on the wrong side of a bridge that was crowded with men, and that in about half a minute the French planned to open fire and so he turned his horse and spurred it back along the roadway. The riflemen and redcoats were running and Sharpe followed them, walking backwards, keeping his eye on the French, the rifle in his hands. He reckoned he was safe enough. The French company was a long musket shot away and so far they had made no attempt to close the range, but then Sharpe saw Vandal turn and wave to the fort.
"Bloody hell," Sharpe echoed the brigadier, and then the world shook to the sound of six guns emptying their barrels of grapeshot. Dark smoke whipped the sky, the balls screamed around Sharpe, slapping onto the bridge and slashing into men and churning the river into foam. Sharpe heard a scream behind him, then saw the French company running towards the bridge. There was an odd silence after the guns fired. No muskets had been used yet. The river settled from the strike of the grapeshot and Sharpe heard another scream and snatched a look behind him to see Moon's stallion rearing, blood seething from its neck, and then the brigadier fell into a knot of men.
Sturridge was dead. Sharpe found him some twenty paces beyond the powder barrels. The engineer, struck in the head by a piece of grapeshot was lying beside the slow match that had not been lit and now the French were almost at the bridge and Sharpe snatched up Sturridge's tinder box and ran towards the powder barrels. He shortened the slow match by tearing it apart just a couple of paces from the charge, then struck the flint on the steel. The spark flew and died. He struck again, and this time a scrap of dried linen caught the spark and he blew on it gently and the tinder flared up and he put the flame to the fuse and saw the powder begin to spark and fizz. The first Frenchmen were obstructed by the womens' abandoned luggage, but they kicked it aside and ran onto the bridge where they knelt and aimed their muskets. Sharpe watched the fuse. It was burning so damn slowly! He heard rifles fire, their sound crisper than muskets, and a Frenchman slowly toppled with a look of indignation on his face and a bright stab of blood on his white crossbelt, then the French muskets fired and the balls flew close around him. The damned fuse was slower than slow! The French were just yards away, then he heard more rifles firing, heard a French officer screaming at his men, and Sharpe tore the fuse again, much closer to the powder barrels, and he used the burning end to light the new stub. It was just inches from the barrel now and he blew on it, then turned and ran towards the western bank.
Moon was wounded, but a pair of men from the 88th had picked the brigadier off the roadway and were carrying him. "Come on, sir!" Harper shouted. Sharpe could hear the Frenchmens' boots on the roadway, then Harper was beside him and levelled the seven-barrel gun. It was a naval weapon, one that had never really worked well. It was supposed to be carried in the fighting tops where its seven bunched barrels could launch a small volley of half-inch balls at marksmen in the enemy rigging, but the recoil of the volley gun was so violent that few men were strong enough to wield it. Patrick Harper was strong enough. "Down, sir!" he shouted, and Sharpe dropped flat as the sergeant pulled the trigger. The noise deafened Sharpe, and the leading rank of Frenchman was blown apart by the seven balls, and then the whole sky was thundering with noise as Sturridge's charge caught the fire and exploded.
Flame, smoke and timbers erupted into the air, though the chief effect of the exploding powder was to drive the pontoon down into the river. The roadway buckled. The French were thrown back, some dead, some burned, some stunned, and then the pontoon reared up from the water and its anchor chains snapped from the recoil. The bridge jerked downstream, throwing Harper off his feet. He and Sharpe clung to the planks. The bridge was juddering now, the river foaming and pushing at the broken gap as scraps of burning timber flamed on the roadway. Sharpe had been half dazed by the explosion and now found it hard to stand, but he staggered towards the British held shore and then the pontoon anchor chains began to snap, one after the other, and the more that parted the more pressure was put on the remaining chains. The French cannon fired again and the air was filled with screaming grapeshot and one of the men carrying Brigadier Moon jerked forward with blood staining the back of his red coat. The man vomited blood and the brigadier bellowed in agony as he was dropped. The bridge began to shake like a bough in the wind and Sharpe had to fall to his knees and hold onto a plank to stop being thrown into the water. Musket balls were coming from the French company, but the range was too long for accuracy. The brigadier's wounded horse was in the river, blood swirling as it struggled against the inevitable drowning.
A shell struck the bridge's far end. Sharpe decided the French gunners were trying to hold the British fugitives on the breaking bridge where they could be flayed by grapeshot. The French infantry had retreated to the eastern bank from where they fired musket volleys. Smoke was filling the valley. Water splashed across the pontoon where Sharpe and Harper clung, then it shook again and the roadway splintered and Sharpe feared the remnants of the bridge would overturn. A bullet slammed into a plank by his side. Another shell exploded at the bridge's far end, leaving a puff of dirty smoke that drifted upstream where white birds flew in panic.
Then suddenly the bridge quivered and went still. The central portion of six pontoons had broken free and was drifting down the river. There was a tug as a last anchor chain snapped, then the six pontoons were circling and floating as a barrel load of grapeshot churned the water just behind them. Sharpe could kneel now. He loaded the rifle, aimed at the French infantry, and fired. Harper slung his empty volley gun and shot with his rifle instead. Rifleman Slattery and Rifleman Harris came to join them and sent two more bullets, both aimed at the French officers on horseback, but when the rifle smoke cleared the officers were still mounted. The pontoons were travelling fast in the current, accompanied by broken and charred timbers. Brigadier Moon was lying on his back, trying to prop himself up on his elbows. "What happened?"
"We're floating free, sir." Sharpe said. There were six men of the 88th on the makeshift raft and five of Sharpe's riflemen from the South Essex. The rest of his company had either escaped the bridge before it broke or else were in the river. So now, with Sharpe and the brigadier, there were thirteen men floating downstream and over a hundred Frenchmen running down the bank, keeping level with them. Sharpe hoped that thirteen was not unlucky.
"See if you can paddle to the western bank," Moon ordered. Some British officers, using captured horses, were on that bank and were trying to catch up with the raft.
Sharpe had the men use their rifle and musket butts as paddles, but the pontoons were monstrously heavy and their efforts were futile. The raft drifted on southwards. A last shell plunged harmlessly into the river, its fuse extinguished instantly by the water. "Paddle, for God's sake!" Moon snapped.
"They're doing their best, sir," Sharpe said. "Broken leg, sir?"
"Calf bone," Moon said, wincing, "heard it snap when the horse fell."
"We'll straighten it up in a minute, sir," Sharpe said soothingly.
"You'll do no such bloody thing, man! You'll get me to a doctor."
Sharpe was not certain how he was going to get Moon anywhere except straight down the river which was curving now about a great rock bluff on the Spanish bank. That bluff, at least, would check the French pursuit. He used his rifle as a paddle, but the raft stubbornly took its own path. Once past the bluff the river widened, swung back to the west and the current slowed a little.
The French pursuers were left behind and the British were finding the going hard on the Portuguese bank. The French cannon were still firing, but they could no longer see the raft so they had to be shooting at the British forces on that western bank. Sharpe tried to steer with a length of scorched, broken plank, not because he thought it would do any good, but to prevent Moon complaining. The makeshift rudder had no effect. The raft stubbornly stayed close to the Spanish bank. Sharpe thought about Bullen and felt a pulse of pure anger at the way in which the lieutenant had been taken prisoner. "I'm going to kill that bastard," he said aloud.
"You're going to do what?" Moon demanded.
"I'm going to kill that bastard Frenchman, sir. Colonel Vandal."
"You're going to get me to the other bank, Sharpe, that's what you're going to do, and you're going to do it quickly."
At which point, with a shudder and a lurch, the pontoons ran aground.