Monday, 11 March 2013
FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! #22
Richard Sharpe: Of humble origins he must rise through the British armed forces against a tide of institutional incompetence and bigotry using his natural brilliance in leadership along with an uncanny sense of luck to be at a series of majorly significant engagements in the history of the Napoleonic War.
Sharpe has access to a wide range of 19th Century infantry weaponry, but is a particular expert with the Baker Rifle. This gun was far more accurate and deadly than the muskets commonly issued to most soldiers. This made it an ideal tool for the sniping and skirmishing missions of the Chosen Men. The rag-tag band of merry men in green that Sharpe leads consisting of poachers, other people and acclaimed folk artist John Tamm. Robin Hood’s Merry Men meets the Dirty Dozen. Experts all in the use of the Rifle.
Hornblower has only one weapon at his disposal: The British Navy. The most awesome platform of firepower the Nineteenth Century has to offer, and therefore the Senior Service.
They are, however, rather limited to being at or near the sea.
Still. Doesn't one covet such a formidable arsenal? Yes, one most certainly does.
Sharpe is able to call upon the talents of Patrick Harper; a bear of a man, so big he is one of the few to be able to handle the seven barrelled Nock Gun without having his shoulder broken by the recoil. Originally set against Sharpe after working off a little homo-erotic tension together he became a loyal enforcer to Richard, entering into a Little John/Robin Hood relationship. A stout Irishman, Harper served a long army career without injury, rising to Regimental Sergeant Major after Sharpe ended his rebellious days.
A Hornblower in the hand is worth William Bush. One time Hornblower’s superior, Bush sees through Horatio’s crippling self-doubt to recognise the man's brilliance. He ensures the Hornblower is promoted above him and proceeds to be his loyal aide. Bush is played by Paul McGann, who was originally chosen for the role of Sharpe before Sean Bean took the role. McGann has had a more succesful musical career than the Yorkshireman though, so every cloud, etc.
Sharpe, as well as being well versed in the art of infantry, has significant experience of naval warfare. He was present at the Royal Navy’s victories at the Battles of Copenhagen and Trafalgar.
Hornblower, as well as being well versed in seafaring, has significant experience of land based fighting. Hornblower has frequently commanded Marine incursions into enemy territory and even undertaken clandestine intelligence operations.
Gascony, France – Summer 1813
Behind enemy lines.
The temperature is only eased by the last intermittent strains of a sea breeze emanating from the ocean, a distant teasing cobalt underscore to a fierce azure sky.
The land is a series of ancient hills, smoothed down as if the motion of the distant sea has eroded them, then the sun bleached them dry. Pockets of rich green vegetation cling to the shaded valleys and animals pick the last of the desiccated grazing from the fields surrounding a few lonely scattered farmsteads.
On a hilly plateau overlooking the vista is a grand country house, once gleaming boldly against the panorama but now warmly weathered, providing an understated highlight. All is eerily quiet as though sound itself is finding it too hot to work in such a climate.
Sound is then back on the case (something that will ultimately become known as a Calippo in involved) as a very Anglo-Saxon curse breaks the stifling tranquillity through the tender yet forceful medium of an Irish lilt (it's a totally Shamrockical taste). The large green frame of a Chosen Man stops just short of the cool shaded door to the house, slinging a massive gun upon his back and wiping the sweat from his brow with a coarse dry sleeve before raising his hands. A man dressed in dark blue naval uniform steps out from the doorway and into the blazing light, pointing a pistol at the newcomer.
“Captain Bush of HMS Nonsuch, I guess from your tongue you’re not a native.”
“Aye, that’d be right. Sergeant Harper of the 95th Rifles.”
“You’re a long way from the front Sergeant,” says Bush slipping his pistol back into its holster. “You can lower your hands man.”
“Yes sir, thank you sir, though begging your pardon sir, you’re quite a duck out of water here. If you follow my meaning.”
“I’m part of a naval intelligence landing party…”
“Let me guess; tasked to make contact with a French Royalist ahead of a future push out of Spain?”
“Typical. All those sneaky intelligence sods don’t even know they’re stumbling over each other!”
“Well, I assume you’re not the only one on your mission?”
“No sir, I’m here with Major Sharpe. He approached the house from the rear.”
“Well I’m sure he’ll meet with Commodore Hornblower inside and follow his lead.”
“Follow sir? Doesn’t sound like the Major at all”
“He’ll have to sergeant – senior service, senior commission and, most importantly, we were first!”
“Right you are sir, best wait for them then… fancy playing football to pass some time?”
“Oh certainly. What’s the worst that can happen?"
While all this is going on, a man in the same tattered, worn green jacket as Sergeant Harper, but wearing a much smaller frame, silently pulls himself through a rear window and into the study of the house. Richard Sharpe’s eyes adjust to the comparative gloom of the room, illuminated only by the reflected glow of the sun-kissed countryside as it squeezes in through the small window after him. Swearing under his breath - for obviously missing the Countess’ bedroom window - he quietly stalks, like a mossy panther, to the closed door and rests his ear to the cool wood. From outside in the corridor he hears a man say:
Upon hearing the fluent French from the other side of the door, Sharpe oaths silently to himself, braces himself and flings the door open. The relative dark of the corridor is interrupted a shard of sunlight pouring in through an open window at the other end, the shutters pushed wide open to welcome the dying breeze. The light partially blinds Sharpe but he sees the owner of the flowing French accent immediately in front of him. The dark blue uniform can only be a French officer!
He could be here to blackmail the Countess, or simply be here by some sort of terribly French accident, but Sharpe can’t afford to be discovered. He reacts instantly with the only weapon immediately available to him, sending the man into a whirling pool of blue with punch to the jaw.
Hornblower’s world lurches sickeningly, reminding him of his early days of seasickness if it were not for the intense pain in his jaw. Looking up from the floor he sees the rough, grimy tanned man that burst out of the room next to him but a moment ago. The demeanour and countenance and general mossiness of the man gives the impression he may work outdoors, perhaps the house groundsman? Hornblower instantly rebukes himself, how could he be so foolish - the ripped and torn green jacket is clearly military in origin! He must be a deserter and bandit, fleeing the lines and has come to the house to raid, pillage and possibly worse!
The man standing above Hornblower’s prostrate form is lean and feral, every muscle, tendon and sinew poised and taught. He is reaching for the rifle slung over his shoulder but before he can bring it to bear Hornblower whips a leg out, sweeping the man’s footing out from underneath him.
He falls with a crash like a moss covered log, the rifle cascading down the nearby stairwell like a discarded broken branch. Hornblower doesn’t waste the opportunity and is on his feet in a flash, but the fallen man springs back to his feet nearly as quickly.
The two men now face each other in the corridor, two British oaks framing the Countess’ door. Hornblower, stiff and erect in his commodores uniform, calculating options in his eddying and fathomless mind; Sharpe rough and ready in his exposed uniform, his penetrating gaze searching for any opening to exploit. Simultaneously their hands race across to their scabbards and un-sheath their swords, their weapons quivering with anticipation.
The naval man carefully shifts his weight and Sharpe lunges forward, the great mass of his heavy cavalry sword arcing upward from left to right. But the naval officers’ cutlass of Hornblower nimbly parrying the thrust of the bigger blade, deflecting it into the bedroom door. Hornblower, the less moss-resembling of the two, now counterattacks, leaping on spry toes to place a shoulder into Sharpe’s ribs.
Sharpe stumbles backward bringing his blade with him, hewing a chuck of ancient wood in twain. Hornblower flicks his cutlass back across, the tip just raking across Sharpe’s chest as he falls back taking away the last buttons holding his jacket closed and leaving a raw pink red welt across his now exposed chest. A flash of blood red rage passes through Sharpe’s eyes but he already knows his next tactic. He harnesses the momentum of his sword and swings it back around and over his head, with a step forward bringing it crashing down towards the other man. Hornblower raises his cutlass to meet the incoming steel, but he knows it’ll be no match for the weight about to descend. The cavalry sword tears the small cutlass from the seaman’s grip, but as Sharpe continues to fall upon him Hornblower anchors his foot to the floor, grabs a threadbare lapel and spins. Sharpe realises too late that he has been swung about, but like a desperate lion he reaches out with a claw and snares his foe.
The two men slam together onto the hard wood of the bedroom door. Weakened from the earlier blow of Sharpe's sword, it cannot contain the force of both men. The wood relents with one last resigned moan and the two men spurt forth into the Countess’ boudoir, sprayed and splayed upon the floor.
Immediately Sharpe’s survival instinct kicks in. The sound of singing steel sends him rolling to the side and a thin silver sliver skims past his face. Above him is a man, who holds a pistol to the head of a beautiful woman lying in the bed and now the sword pointed down to his throat. The man leers down at Sharpe.
“Monsieur Ducos will be overjoyed to hear…” The rich French accent withers, eyes widening. “Ah," he mutters, "Merde.”
Hornblower, from behind Sharpe, rolls and rises bringing a pistol to bear on the Frenchman in the room. The Frenchman begins to wheal his gun around, taking it off the girl in the bed, but far too late. With a loud retort Hornblower fires, his guns’ load ripping through the Frenchman’s shoulder, sending him staggering backwards towards the window. Sharpe springs back upright, his muscles uncoiling like snakes unwrapping themselves from limbs of purest Sheffield steel and/or mossy tendrils.
Still clutching his heavyweight weapon Sharpe runs at the Frenchman, now framed by the glowing light of the window, and plants a punch full in his face with the metal hand guard of the sword. This connects the same time as a punch delivered to the Frenchman by Hornblower who had discarded his one shot pistol and hurdled the bed to land his blow. Combined the two blows defenestrate the Frenchman and he drops silently from view to land broken on the dusty ground a floor below, like so much of his seed has before him.
Sharpe and Hornblower instantly retract, still wary of each other’s presence. Sweating and aching from their earlier exertions they look at each other and breathe deeply – regrouping, recalculating, repositioning. Sharpe - glowering, mossy, belligerent - weighs the now heavy sword in his hand. Hornblower - dashing, plucky, mossless - reaching slowly to the reassuring bulge of his second pistol.
“Bravo, my brave English boys,” comes a silky almost playful French lilt (aah, refreshing). "You have saved me from the spy of the Republic.”
The two men now look at each other with aghast realisation yet certainly relieved, and turn to look at the girl in the bed. The Countess. Despite lying in bed her long and slender frame was evident to both men. She was in her forties, her noble bearing giving her both a freshness that turned back the years and a confidence that gave her no small amount of power. The lightly tanned skin of her Pyrenean provenance combined with her French tongue to give her an exotic countenance and a beguiling sense of danger. The bed sheets were lightly draped over her, she had been waiting like this. She sits up in the bed, the long dark waves of hair tumble down over her shoulders. The sheets ruffle together around her hips.
Sharpe and Hornblower find themselves staring at the rudimentary application of physics to invigorate the rudimentary application of biology.
It is a whale bone corset.
“So perhaps now we can commence our business,” - a wicked smile flashes across her face - “To arrange relations between us...no?”