Across the Wall or Sharpe's Stardust
In a departure from my usual creative writing, I've plunged into
the world of Fan Fiction. That is, writing using characters and
worlds created by established writers. I picked Bernard Cornwell's
Richard Sharpe and plunged him into Neil Gaiman's world of Stardust.
In the Fan Fiction tradition, I list the world, the characters,
rating and length.
Characters: Richard Sharpe, the Queen of Elfland’s daughter
and other characters from the world of faerie.
Rating: General Audience. Sex scenes no more descriptive
than a Harlequin / Mills & Boon novel.
Length: Short Story – 8,800 words
Disclaimer: This is a work of fan-fiction created for entertainment.
It is not the intention of the author to infringe on anyone’s copyright.
i.e. There’s this phrase “Property of Bernard Cornwell” tattooed
on Sharpe’s luscious rear. I’m just borrowing it.
Setting: Wall. England.
Author’s Note: I wondered what Sharpe would find if he
crossed the wall. Like the original Stardust, this is a love story.
Now it came to be in the spring time of the year that Captain Richard Sharpe
of the 95th Rifles happened to spend a night in the village of Wall in ___shire.
As he had no place to call home, he had gone where the roads and friendly carters
took him while on furlough in England. After buying fresh bread in the village
of Wall and filling his canteen in the village well, he found himself with a
trout he had tickled out of the stream roasting over a small fire, in the lea
of a great stone wall north of the village.
The night was warm for spring although the breeze carried hints of winter’s
passing. It was rich in the scents of promises. Spring is when young men’s
fancies turn to love, and Sharpe was no different. Laying on his bedroll, he
gazed at the stars twinkling above him and wondered if he’d ever find
love and a woman to call wife.
He turned over and settled down, his greatcoat wrapped around him, his head
pillowed on his jacket. A soft smile lit his face as he thought of his few days
on the road. How different it was from when he was just a lad, before he took
the King’s shilling. Respect. That was what he had now. A few shillings
to rub together and an Officer’s Sash said much about a man. The coals
of his fire carefully banked, the meadow peaceful, he slept.
When he next opened his eyes, it was still dark, but something
had woken him. His senses alert, he cast around him seeking that
which had woken him. A soft sob. A woman’s distress. He stood
and looked around. It was coming from the other side of the wall.
He looked at the tall forbidding stone, then remembered a breach
in the wall not far from where he was camped. In a thrice, he had
his bedroll rolled up and strapped on his knapsack. A kick and a
stamp to make sure the coals of his fire were well out, he was dressed
and kitted to move out.
In less than a minute of the Rifleman’s quick march, he was
at the breach. An old man with a long beard and mutton-chops sat
puffing on a pipe. He nodded at the man and was surprised when he
stood, pulling up a long staff with a bludgeoning head from the
ground and stood blocking his path.
“Turn back, lad. No one passes.”
Sharpe looked at the man in surprise.
“Why not, old uncle?”
“This is the Wall. No one passes through. There’s danger on the
other side. You go through, you never come back.”
Sharpe moved to take a step forward, but the old man stood his ground. Even
took a poke at him with the staff. He looked over the man’s shoulder through
the breach in the wall. As he had glimpsed in the daylight earlier when he pulled
himself up for a look, all he could see was a quiet meadow and a forest beyond,
with a well worn pathway wending through it.
“It looks like a well trodden path. Here.” He tugged at the leather
thong around his neck that held his coin purse. “You’re the toll
collector, aren’t you?”
‘That’s insulting you are, young man.”
The staff was brandished in his face, making him take a step back. Sharpe was
beginning to get annoyed.
“Look, old uncle, I don’t want to hurt you, but I’m going
through. I heard a woman in distress on the other side of the wall. She may
The old man gasped. “It’s a fairy lure. You stay here on this side,
lad, where it is safe.”
“Fairies? You’re daft, old man. You don’t mean to tell me
you believe in fairies?”
Sharpe made to push by and got the staff in his belly with surprising strength
for his trouble, then he was seeing stars again when the staff was applied to
his chin and he found himself stretched out once more on his back, although
involuntarily this time.
“Hmmph!” the old man snorted and shook his staff threateningly,
“take yourself up and be off with you. Daft, indeed.”
Sharpe shook his head to clear it and picked himself off the ground. He had
misjudged his opponent it seems. Dusting himself off, he made as if to move
“I guess I will be moving off then…”
“Hmmph!” The old man snorted again, “See that you do.”
Sharpe turned to move the way he came, looking over his shoulder at the old
man who was turning back to his chair. He moved then, like an old man did, slowly
and not too steadily. With a grin, Sharpe turned, broke into a sprint and charged
the breach. The old man lowered himself down in his chair, using his staff like
a cane. He looked up just as Sharpe reached the breach in the wall.
“Here now!” He shouted as Sharpe vaulted through with a shout of
triumph. “Get back ‘ere you young scallywag!”
His heart racing, Sharpe continued running, slowing down to a quick march as
he put distance between the breach in the wall back toward where he had camped,
although on the other side of the wall.
He walked quietly, his senses alert, and missed the weight of his rifle in
his hands. At least though, he had his sword on his hip. Ahh… there it
was again. A quiet sobbing. A gleam of gold against the wall. He made a little
noise and when he saw that she was aware of his presence, called out, “Miss?
Are you alright then?”
The girl whirled around and backed against the wall, her eyes large.
The waning moon broke from behind the clouds then and illuminated
the man. In his great coat, his knapsack on his back, Sharpe seemed
impossibly large. She huddled against the wall, pressing the back
of a hand against her mouth to still her fright.
Sharpe approached slowly, carefully. “I’m not going to hurt you,
Lass. I heard you crying.”
She stared without replying.
“On the other side,” he continued. He knelt in front of her. Looking
her over. “Are you hurt?”
She shook her head, her hair falling about her face. She was blonde. Very blonde.
With fair skin that held the pink tinge of the English Rose. Her eyes and nose
were red from crying. Her dress was no more than a rag, although it probably
was very fine once upon a time. It revealed her long slim legs, with feet encased
in slippers that had also seen finer days.
“Are you in trouble then?” Sharpe asked quietly.
She nodded and tears spilled over again.
“Here now,” he soothed. “None of that. Let me help you. I’m
Richard. Richard Sharpe.”
Sharpe raised the ends of his red sash. “I’m an officer. A Captain
in the 95th Rifles of King George’s army.”
“Sa-Saraphina.” She sniffed and rubbed her nose with her knuckles.
“That’s a pretty name,” He smiled and dug around in his pockets.
He had a handkerchief in there somewhere. The way she was holding her hands
gave him pause. Her hands… they were bound. He touched her then, and she
started at the touch of his fingers. She was embarrassed at the state of her
dress and distress but at the gentleness of his touch, a faint hope bloomed.
She offered her wrists to him.
“Can you free me? Will you free me then, Captain Richard Sharpe of King
Sharpe examined the light chain that circled her wrists, and then extended
into the darkness. Removing his knife from his boot, he cut it. It rejoined.
“What the bloody he..?” He caught himself just before
he uttered the swear word. He looked at the silvery chain again.
Gripping in both hands, he broke it.
“Ha!” He exclaimed, grinning in triumph. A grin that faded as the
blasted thing grew back together. He glared at the gleaming silver chain as
it trailed into the forest. He tugged. It tugged back. He hauled on it with
all his strength. It did not give but began to draw back inexorably. He dug
his heels into the ground and still it moved, dragging him and Saraphina forward.
Swearing under his breath, he put greater effort to hauling the chain backward,
but still it dragged him. He wished for the strength of Pat Harper then, but
doubted if even he could help. They were being dragged towards the road through
They were running now. Faster and faster. Her breath came in sobbing pants.
“They sell me tomorrow.”
“Will you come?”
“Will you come?”
They were beginning to move impossibly fast. He released her for fear of hurting
her. She cast a look of despairing hope over her shoulder at him.
“Will you come?”
Sharpe was panting. Trying to keep up.
“Yes! Yes, I will. But where?”
Then she was gone. Sharpe blinked and slowed from the all out sprint he was
running at, to a run and finally to the Rifleman’s quick march; three
step running, three step walking, a pace that would cover miles before he tired.
He took in his surroundings as he marched. The forest was alive in night creatures
and birds, shushing or scurrying away as he passed. Normal. Not like some strange
fairy land. The old man’s warnings and the memories of Harper’s
stories of Irish fairies had got him going for a while there. As for that damned
chain, there was an explanation for it. He took comfort in the mundane. His
sword slapping against his thigh, his greatcoat flapping quietly in rhythm with
his feet, his boots crunching along on the forest floor. He did not know how
far he had to go before he reached the market but if the morn were market day,
judging by the false dawn lighting the sky, he had but a few hours.
He had been gone from England too long, he thought. The markets had certainly
grown more exotic. Almost like the markets of India and Portugal, except even
more exotic than that in the mixture of folk that thronged the place. He saw
Blackamoors and hunched-back dwarves, finely dressed ladies and beggar boys.
Stall holders selling colorful silks and linens, exotic animals in cages and
apothecaries promising potions that gave strength to a man all night long to
potions that cured the pox.
Pausing to refresh himself at the market well, he exchanged pleasantries with
the local folk. The catnap he had outside the gates had helped as well. Finding
a horse trough with a running fountain, he took the chance to wash the dust
off. No chance of a shave, but he always felt much better clean.
He bought himself a hot pie and a tankard of ale. Wandered through the market,
wondering how he would find Saraphina. He could hear a bell ringing over the
hub-bub and he followed the sound. He’d found the market square, he realized.
There was a small raised stage with a yard-arm. He felt his hackles raise. There
would be no execution today, but hanging from the yard-arm was a cage. A golden
cage and in it, a woman sat slumped, her hands tied behind her, her golden hair
covering her body. With a jolt, he realized that it was Saraphina. She had been
stripped naked. Two open carriages were parked on each side of the stage. A
well dressed man in one, a lady in the other. He had to shove his way to the
front before he could hear the auctioneer, a wizened little dwarf of a man extolling
He looked around, accessing the situation, listening with half an ear to the
little man’s spiel. Fairy princess. Huh! He fingered his picklock but
could not see how the cage opened. Saraphina was naked and bound. Apart from
the auctioneer’s own staff, there were guards. City guards in strategic
positions around the stage to control the crowd with pikes, spears and swords.
“Five hundred from the Countess! Five hundred gold.”
With a shock, he realized the bidding had begun. He swallowed. Five hundred
guineas. It may as well be five thousand. This wasn’t a whore auction
in the slums of London. They were selling her whole. A cheer from the crowd
drew his attention back to the stage. The auctioneer was poking a cane at Saraphina.
A low growl broke from Sharpe’s throat as she climbed to her feet awkwardly.
A teasing breeze shifting her hair so he and the crowd caught glimpses of her
slim body, her fair thighs and the golden curls at their juncture. He swallowed
again as his eyes traveled up her body. Her shoulders were hunched, her face
and eyes cast down, then as he stared helplessly, she stirred as if she could
feel his gaze and her eyes caught his. Her eyes widened and her lips parted.
He could see the shape of his name of them as she moved them. She straightened
slowly. The swoops and curls of her hair teased the curves of her body and parted.
Sharpe gulped at the sight of her breasts with her tight pink nipples parting
the sea of gold.
“One thousand! Thank you, my Lord. Do I hear a thousand five? Two? Two
to the Countess.”
A ball of disappointment, of fury and frustration began working its way up
Sharpe’s gullet. He cast around desperately. Seeking a way out. Looking
for the smallest chance that he could somehow rescue her. Steal her from the
short bastard that was auctioning her off. Black despair began to creep up when
a hand touched his arm. He stared, almost unseeingly at the young man as the
crowd’s excitement grew palpable.
“Offer what is dearest to you.”
“Your symbol of rank.”
“My what?” Sharpe’s voice rose attracting the attention of
those around him.
“I saw you look at her, sir, and she at you. The rules are such that
you cannot lose.”
“What are you saying?”
“You love her, don’t you?”
Sharpe was confused but the murmurings had already begun.
“There is love?”
“Someone bids love?”
Sharpe touched the red sash of his rank that was tied around his waist.
“This has value?”
“This lad bids his love!” Someone shouted. The din grew louder.
“He offers his heart?”
“There’s an offering of love!”
The attention of the crowd had turned, despite the angry screams of the auctioneer,
“Only cold hard cash to be bid here!”
The crowd had turned on him. Hoots, jeers and catcalls were heaped on him.
“Not when there’s love to be had!”
Sharpe found himself shuffled to the front of the steps and pushed up the stage.
A loud gasp arose from the crowd.
“From the other side.”
He stood uncertainly, his eyes moved to Saraphina, standing straight and still
in the cage.
“Offer your heart, lad.” Someone called.
Sharpe turned his head, “How? And yet live? What use am I to her, dead?”
The crowd laughed. He turned back and stared at the auctioneer, his lips tight.
Little dried up sod of a lecher. His hand strayed to his sword hilt and was
immediately struck by a guard. He snatched it away shaking the pain away to
keep it limber. The crowd was still shouting, and he tried to make out what
they were saying.
“Not to ‘im, ya bludy fool!”
“Don’t you other-siders know anything?”
“To her, lad! To her!”
The auctioneer was beside himself in rage. Gibbering and cursing, he raised
his cane to stab it at Saraphina. “You misbegotten slut! This is your
gratitude? I let you go to the greenwood for one night and what do you do? Spread
your legs for the first fool to walk by?”
Faster than the guard could move, Sharpe was before the cage, his heavy cavalry
saber slicing through the cane. The crowd howled its approval. The declaration
had been made.
The auctioneer raged, “She is my property, you bastard, and you will
not come between us. Guards! Guards!”
The Guards were wary. They could tell full well whom the masses favored, and
it was this handsome, well-built man with the shock of dirty blonde hair, not
the angry, cursing goblin auctioneer. They ranged around Sharpe in a semi-circle.
The Corporal had gone for their Lieutenant and they hoped that reinforcements
would arrive before the swelling crowd turned ugly.
Sharpe watched the guards warily. He would not prevail if they attacked, but
he would not go down alone either. A trumpet sounded.
“All hail, the Market Master!” A herald’s voice rang out
over their heads. A large contingent of guardsmen entered the square to push
the crowd back, to their disgust.
“Bleeding just want to be up front is what.”
A tall, gaunt, harassed looking man dressed in austere black, with a pair of
pince-nez on his nose mounted the stage with a plump smiling lady in pink following.
The auctioneer hustled forward, bowed obsequiously, almost groveling and began
whining and complaining.
The little man sputtered and protested, then shut his mouth as the Market Master
raised a hand. The last time the Market Master silenced him, it had taken close
to all his wealth to get his voice back.
Sharped sheathed his saber and bowed, according the man his rank. The hub-bub
“I do not like disturbances on market day, young man.”
“My apologies, sir.”
The Market Master sighed as his wife tugged at his arm. She had insisted on
accompanying him the moment she had heard that a heart was being bid in the
“Charmed, ma’am.” Sharpe took her hand and bowed over it
as he had learned to do.
The crowd sighed.
“I understand you defend the lady even though she is the property of
Sharped stiffened, “It is my duty, sir. As an officer and a gentleman.
I will not allow her to be abused.”
“I see. Your duty.”
“And nothing else?”
“I understood that a heart was offered today.”
Sharpe glanced at Saraphina. She stood, pressed against the bars of the cage.
Their eyes met and he felt his heart clench. After an infinitesimal moment where
the crowd held their collective breath, he turned back to face the Market Master.
“Then you give up your dearest possession for your heart.”
Sharpe was confused again.
The crowed moaned. These other-siders. They knew nothing!
The Market Master’s wife touched his arm. He looked down, and into her
fathomless eyes. Your symbol of rank for your heart. Her voice spoke within
him. He jerked. Then looking down, he touched his red officer’s sash.
The symbol of his rank. The rank he had fought tooth and nail, clawed upward
from the gutter for. He found his heart pounding, his hand trembling as he picked
up one end of the sash.
He looked at Saraphina and she back at him. Her eyes wide and luminous. Her
lips formed his name again and his chest clenched once more. Then with sure
hands, he undid the sash and offered it to the Market Master.
The Market Master looked at the thread-bare piece of red silk. He noted the
slight unsteadiness of the fingers, his piercing glare seemed to delve into
the young man’s soul. Something he saw must have satisfied him, for he
took the offering from Sharpe’s trembling hand. A cheer broke out from
the crowd and Sharpe released the breath he was unaware he had held. He began
to smile, the smile widening to a grin as the Market Master’s herald blew
his trumpet again to signal for silence.
“A most significant auction has taken place today. By the rules of this
land. A heart was offered today and accepted. By this same rule, a bid was made.”
He looked around at his audience before nodding at Sharpe.
“By this young man. His dearest possession in return of his heart to
him. This bid must be accepted and trumps all other bids.”
He raised the red sash high.
“A very dear bid indeed, for we have here, this young man’s symbol
The crowd roared its approval.
Folding the sash reverently, the Market Master handed it to the auctioneer
who fumed for a moment before he snapped his fingers. The bars of the cage fell
with a musical chime. Spinning around, Sharpe strode to the cage, turning Saraphina
gently, he broke the silver chain that bound her wrists, stripped off his great
coat and wrapped it around her.
She turned to him.
“I said I would.”
The crowd was chanting, “Kiss her! Kiss her! Kiss her!”
“Oh, Richard.” Saraphina slid her freed arms around his neck.
His ears burning, his heart full to bursting, Sharpe bent his head to lay claim
to his heart.
Sharpe picked up his lady, making sure his great coat was wrapped around her
securely. Amidst the cheers of the crowd, he carried her off the stage in his
arms. First things, first, he thought. He had to get her dressed while his baser
instincts were still in check.
“D’you know the market at all, lass? We have to get you some shoes
and a dress.”
The look she gave him from beneath her lashes fair made his blood sizzle. He
wiped the grin off his face with difficulty and looked at her severely.
“Yes, we do.”
Saraphina giggled as she nibbled on his neck.
“Here now. Stop that.”
“Yes, Richard.” She sighed softly, one hand unbuttoning his jacket
and slipping within.
A shiver ran down his spine, straight to his groin.
His hands full, there was naught he could do to stop her exploring hands.
“Be useful then,” he chided. “My coin purse is around my
neck. I haven’t much with me, but we should be able to get you stockings,
shoes, a shift and a dress.”
He didn’t know if his meager purse would extend to petticoats, corsets,
bonnets and the other fripperies that ladies required.
He should have known enough to leave well alone, Sharpe thought as Saraphina
drew the stockings up to her shapely thigh. He should have just bought her something
instead of letting her choose. Then letting her persuade him into helping her
choose. The seamstress had left them discreetly alone with a selection of clothing
that was within his purse. That was the third pair of stockings she had tried
on for him. She was still wearing only his great coat. She had not even gotten
to the selection of shift or dress yet. She was going to kill him.
Sharpe wandered through the stalls outside the clothing store, having escaped
the heated confines of the dressing room with his virtue and honor barely intact.
He stopped at a gaudy stall selling clockwork animata. Not anything that he
could afford, but he was fascinated. Here, a monkey beat on a pair of cymbals
while its head moved back and forth. There, a soldier marched up and down, knelt
and lifted its musket to fire. He picked it up and examined it admiringly.
“You like it, sir?” The stall holder asked.
“It is more than a mere soldier can afford.” He responded as he
set it down with regret.
“For you sir, a pittance.”
Sharpe sent the gaudily dressed old woman a piercing look.
The woman fluttered her hands and rolled her eyes.
“For the hero of the day? But of course!”
Sharpe blushed. He was no bloody hero.
She smiled encouragingly, trying to hand it to him, “Take it!”
“What do you want for it, ma’am?”
Her eyes twinkled, “A lock of your hair. For a keepsake.”
“That you’ll no doubt sell for ten times as much as the toy.”
Saraphina’s lilting voice intruded.
Sharpe turned, the toy forgotten as he looked at his lady.
Thwarted, the stall holder muttered a curse under a breath and glared at Saraphina.
Unaware of the undercurrents or his close escape, Sharpe looked his lady up
“How beautiful you look.”
The light blue dressed matched the color of her eyes. The color of the English
sky on a clear summer’s day. The neckline was modest, but the dress did
nothing to conceal her lush figure or bosom. Sharpe smiled and offering her
his arm, they strolled the market place together. He grinned down at her as
he remembered the clockwork toy.
“Ten times as much?”
He laughed. For a lock of his hair? Not likely.
By God, it felt good to have Saraphina on his arm. The way she nestled close
and gazed at him proclaimed to all, that she was his. His lady. Many smiled
at the couple and offered their felicitations. They were given trinkets. A flower
for his jacket, ribbons for her hair. Offered sweetmeats and pies, lemonade
and wine and berries. The word had run through Market faster than wildfire through
a meadow. After all… how often did a man win his love through an auction
by bidding with his heart? Not in the last three hundred years at least! And
it happened right here in Market! They made a handsome couple and many speculated
on the bonnie babies they would make together. Although some muttered darkly
that other-side pairings came only to no good.
He erected a blanket tent in the sheltered copse for her. She insisted he take
off his jacket and his boots to share it. Then shimmied out of her shift and
removed his shirt. The air was heated in the tent. Conversation consisted of
soft murmurs, heavy breathing, whispered names and gasps of pleasure. Their
mouths and tongues touching, stroking, skin on skin. Her soft hands on softer
skin. More sensitive territory. He had lost his breeches somewhen.
“Darlin’ slow down,” he begged incoherently. “I’m…
I’m trying to be… Aahhh.” Unable to help himself, he slid
into her welcoming heat. She screamed. Sharpe grimaced in ecstasy and agony.
She was unbelievably tight and hot. Slick and wet. Where she was wrapped around
him before, she was now struggling and pushing at him. A tear slipped out of
the corner of an eye. Gritting his teeth, he stilled. His mind scrambling to
catch up with the sensations of his body.
“You’ve never been with a man before, have you, lass?”
She shook her head and buried her face in his neck. He’d never lain with
a virgin before either. It had been a good guess.
“Relax sweetheart. Breathe. Take a deep breath and let it all out.”
She obeyed tremulously, her chest heaving and pressing her breasts harder into
his chest. He levered his chest farther off hers.
“That’s right, darlin’, that’s the way of it.”
He groaned as he sank deeper in her sheath, her body opening to his as she relaxed.
Her eyes widened as his pelvis pressed into her mons, his shaft deep in her.
“Oh.” Her exclamation was soft with wonder.
“Put your arms around me again, darlin’… yes, your legs too.”
He moaned softly. “That’s right lass, open to me.”
Sharpe began to move. Fitting himself to her. Slipping, sliding, fitting. Delving.
Pleasuring. He bent his head. Fitted his lips to hers. She wrapped her arms
and legs around him tighter. Squeezing, encouraging.
She was breathing to his rhythm. Soft gasps of pleasure, her head thrown back
as her body arched toward his. He was saying something. Encouraging her. “Come,
darlin’ come. Come. For me.”
The world split asunder. She screamed. Clutched at him, digging her nails into
his back, her body shuddering with pleasure. His shout of pleasure echoed her
cry a short moment after, his heart juddering in his body, their breaths mingling
in the throes of their climax.
Sharpe drowsed, Saraphina was nestled close. He breathed in her scent, let
it permeate his senses. His calloused hand stroked her soft skin. It was light.
Much later than he normally woke but he was loath to move. As he became aware
of the world, he suddenly realized that they were not alone. He heard footsteps.
The breathy “harrumph” of a horse, a quiet command. His body tensed.
Saraphina opened her eyes and smiled sleepily at him before blushing and looking
away. For a moment, Sharpe forgot about the world outside their small tent and
smiled back. Then, pressing a kiss onto her hair, he laid a shushing finger
on her lips and fumbled in their discarded clothing for his breeches.
There was no way of silencing the draw of a sword from its scabbard and Sharpe
did not try. He was out of the tent in a crouch and rising to his feet when
he heard the same sound reciprocated. Many times over. He had chosen the location
well. The tent backed into a dense coppice but there were a half circle of men
in front of him, their naked blades pointed at his chest.
Tatiana blinked. She had not expected so tall and large a man. She took in
his handsome blonde looks and the expanse of his naked chest. She had an impression
of strength, of courage. An honorable man. An other-sider she had been told.
A military man. He was speaking. An aggressive growl even in his position.
“What do you bastids want, then?”
Sharpe heard movement in the tent behind him. Saraphina was getting dressed.
He heard her gasp as she lifted the flap and looked out.
“Stay back, Sara.”
Sharpe did not look back but kept his eyes on the men in front of him. What
the hell were they wearing? Some sort of shiny metal shirt that gleamed in the
dappled morning light filtering through the trees.
“Mother!” Sara’s voice was joyous.
Sharpe turned his head then, and stared as his love scrambled out of the tent
and ran towards a finely dressed woman on a horse. The woman swung down hastily
and they embraced.
From his crouched ready position, Sharpe slowly straightened and lowered his
sword. The men in front of him did not reciprocate. He growled and took a threatening
step forward. A couple of swords wavered. Hmmph! Inexperienced gits. Pups still
wet behind the ears.
Saraphina was tugging her mother towards him. Sharpe ignored the men and turned
to watch them. As they approached, the men lowered their swords and stood back
Sara grasped his hand and pulled him forward. “Mother, this is Richard.
Captain Richard Sharpe. Of the 95th Rifles. King Georges’ Army.”
Speaking the names as if that explained all.
Sharpe bowed. One of the men gasped. No more than a boy, thought Sharpe. His
voice squeaked as he demanded, “On your knees before the Queen, peasant!”
Queen? Sharpe was confused but he bent a knee obediently. The woman smiled.
Her eyes brimming over with tears as she reached out both hands to cradle his
face as she bent and kissed him on his forehead, cheeks and lips.
There was a general stirring among the guards. The royal salute. Bestowed on
The men – guards, Sharpe amended stood to attention and saluted. She
was raising him to his feet and Saraphina flung herself at him. He caught her
with a grin. Then she was pulling his head down, pressing kisses on his lips.
“Not in front of your mother, darlin’,” he protested.
She laughed, giggling with joy.
“My mother, Richard, Queen Tatiana the… oh, I forget. 15th or something
“My pleasure, ma’am.”
“It seems I have much to thank you for, Captain Sharpe.”
His arse hurt. His stupid horse was bound and determined to shake his bones
loose. It was all he could do to stay on. Saraphina was riding close to her
mother. Talking spiritedly, her mother was wont to reach out and touch her hands
as they held the reins, as if to assure herself that Sara was really there.
He rode in their wake, the Queen’s guards ranged around them. One of them
looked familiar. As if he had seen him somewhere before. He frowned, but could
not place him.
Sharpe had as much riding skills as a sack of grain, he’d often been
told. Sure and where would he have learned how? Riding didn’t seem that
hard, but when he dismounted, his horse moved and he almost fell. His legs felt
like jelly. Damn!
“Haven’t been on a horse for a long while, sir?” The voice
“Never been on a horse before.” He gritted out.
Clutching the saddle horn for all he was worth, Sharpe tried to get his legs
in working order and looked at the owner of the voice. It was familiar as well.
Suddenly, it clicked. He grabbed the guard by his shiny mail vest and hauled
him up to his face.
“You! You were the lad in the market place.”
Robin swallowed nervously. “Yes, sir. Indeed, sir. I was there. You rescued
Sharpe frowned. Wait… Queen of what? Princess? He turned and looked at
Sara and her mother. They were walking toward a large tent, towards a gaggle
of women who were embracing Sara and weeping and exclaiming over her.
“Sir… if you don’t mind?”
Sharpe released the young guard and stood with his legs braced, one hand on
a hip, the other raking through his hair. He looked around, trying to take it
all in. They were in the largest, most ostentatious encampment he had ever seen.
The great tent was larger than any he had seen before. The eaves were dagged
and edged with purple and gold. Pennants flew from supporting poles. It looked
like a page out of a fairy-tale book.
“Sir, if you’ll come this way?”
Sharpe looked at the young guard and limped towards him.
“What’s your name, lad?”
“Robin, sir. Robin Goodfellow.”
Robin, Sharpe decided, was worse than Harper. More persistent, more insistent,
and if he didn’t seem so put out by his uncertain and ungracious temper,
Sharpe would have suspected a good dose of annoying hero-worship as well.
In the space of a day, he had been barbered, shaved, put into new clothes,
his saber cleaned until it gleamed and his stallion exchanged for a gentle gelding.
He had healing hands too, Sharpe conceded, groaning as, in the privacy of the
tent accorded to him, Robin worked the sweet smelling salve into the painfully
tight muscles of his arse and lower limbs.
Sharpe found himself worked harder than he had in a long time. As they traveled,
the horse master took him through his paces, drilling him in horsemanship. An
all out brawl with a snotty courtier had resulted in lessons in self defense
and swordsmanship. A finer blade than he had ever handled now rested against
his hip. A skirmish with brigands determined, however, his superiority as a
military officer as he led the guards and protected the caravan. He now set
the marching order and the night pickets.
Through the entire journey, he got no closer to Saraphina than from across
the dining table. Unless one counted the evening walks - chaperoned by two giggling
maids and no less than five guards to his complete disgust.
Finally, they were met by another large party with carriages. Sharpe watched
as the Queen and her ladies entered one, and Saraphina entered the other. Sharpe
beckoned Robin over.
“See the second carriage?” he asked.
“The one with the Princess?”
“You will enter from the left, and I from the right. We will remove one
Robin grinned. He had yet to instill the concept of a lady-in-waiting to the
man from the other-side. It annoyed the ladies to no end to be called maids.
“What will that accomplish sir?”
Robin did as he was told. Hauling a squawking woman out from the left while
Sharpe did the same from the right. Then Sharpe pulled the coachman down.
“Up you go, Robin!” He cried, throwing him the whip. “Onward!”
Robin scrambled up, gathered the reins and cracked the whip as Sharpe jumped
into the carriage and slammed the door.
Saraphina gasped in amazement as the carriage jolted forward.
“Hello Sara. I’ve missed you.”
He pulled her into his lap and kissed her.
Sharpe stood looking out of the window of his room, his hand resting on the
stone lintel. He was restless. Seeking. If asked, he could not have said what
he was seeking. His days were full. As Commander in Chief of the Queen’s
armies, he had much to do, even in this time of peace. He did not know what
was wrong. He thought of shifting but it was close to night. Now that was something.
He remembered the first time he had heard of it.
“You make a good batman, Robin.”
The young man started, almost dropping his shaving water.
“Sir? How did you know?”
Sharpe turned and frowned.
“That I shift to bat, sir.”
Robin suddenly realized that they were speaking of two different subjects.
“Nothing sir, I misunderstood. What’s a batman?”
Sharpe continued frowning. What had Robin meant? Shift?
“In the army, a batman is the personal servant of an officer. Much more
than a servant though. He is a trusted aide. He carries messages and acts as
bodyguard as well at times.”
Robin beamed. “Thank you sir.”
“So, what do you mean by shift to bat?”
“Come now Robin, explain.”
“That is my animal shape, sir. Some call it a soul-shape.” He laughed
a little self-deprecatingly. “I never could figure out what being a night
flying, insect eating animal said for the state of my soul.”
Sharpe looked thoughtful. “Can everyone shift?”
“Oh, no sir. Very few.”
As the long twilight gave graceful way to soft night, Sharpe remembered his
own first shift. He had not thought it possible. He remembered the rush. The
joy. The almost climatic feeling as he soared into the sky. Tatiana had talked
him into it. Almost tranced him into it. Assured of his ability even though
he doubted it himself. He remembered the power building within in as he reached.
Upward. He had thrown his very soul into the sky while Sara watched, and it
was Sara that called him back. Back into man. Where would he be without her,
he wondered. What would he be without her?
Saraphina stared at her husband’s back. She had found him there too often,
alone by himself instead of joining the merriments of the evening. He would
come to her later, she knew. He always did and they would share the night. But
she did not know what else to do. Her heart ached and yearned for him, but there
was one part of him she could not reach. She walked across the chamber. Touched
his arm. He turned. Smiled at her. Lifted a hand to lightly trail his knuckles
across her cheek. She smile back tremulously, always humbled by the light of
love she saw in his beautiful green eyes. She caught his hand in one of hers
and kissed it.
She reached up and pressed a kiss to his lips.
“Come talk to me?”
Sharpe was in a foul temper. He had no reason for it and he realized it. Robin
was stumbling over his feet to please him. His staff tip-toed around him. Even
Sara was not immune to his sharp tongue. He did not know what was wrong but
he had no peace.
“Not that jacket, Robin. I dislike it heartily. It makes me look like
a strutting popinjay.”
Sharpe sighed and strode over to the wardrobe. He thrust a hand in and pushed
clothing aside, seeking something that pleased him when a small object flew
out. It sparkled in the morning light and hit the floor with a tinkle, rolling
across it, before it slowly curled into smaller and smaller concentric circles,
finally falling onto its side, rattling and gleaming in a shaft of sunlight.
Sharpe’s eyes had followed its flight, his attention full caught. In
two swift strides, he had knelt beside it and picked it up. Staring at the coin
he held between thumb and forefinger. It was a shilling. A bright new shilling.
The King’s shilling.
Robin had stood frozen, watching the coin fly across the room. Still kneeling
on the floor, General Sharpe, the Prince Consort was changing before his eyes
in a manner he could not have described even if pressed.
Sharpe stood. Turned and looked at his batman. His valet. His aide. The world
around him was changing before his eyes. He looked down at himself. Was he the
“My uniform, Robin. Sharpish now.”
Wordlessly, Robin pulled the old uniform out. It was cleaned. Pressed. The
hole in the left elbow mended. He found the shako. The great coat and the boots.
Looked at the boots and replaced them with better. Ones that had been made for
his Prince out of the finest leather one could find. By the best boot maker
in the land.
Sharpe looked at himself in the mirror critically. The uniform felt like an
old friend. The hole in the left elbow had been mended. The pants were still
tight. No red sash. He’d bought his wife with that.
“Prepare my kit, Robin. And my horse. I leave in the hour. Where’s
“At this time of morning, sir? With her ladies.”
Sharpe nodded and strode out of his chambers into the palace.
The ring of Sharpe’s boots on the marble floor alerted the ladies to
his presence. A few gasped as they saw him. They all rose. Curtsied and withdrew
as the Prince Consort approached his wife.
Saraphina looked at her husband and tried to quiet her emotions. She saw the
man she’d first fallen in love with. She saw the man that was leaving
her. Sharpe stopped in front of his Sara. Lifted her hands to his lips, he kissed
them. Then caressed her cheek with the back of his hand. A tear slipped out
from the corner of an eye. Her lips trembled.
“Here now.” He brushed the tear away.
“None of that.”
He kissed her. Made promise with his lips gentle upon hers.
“I will come back.”
Then he turned and walked away. Saraphina gripped her hands to stop herself
from clutching him. From begging him not to leave. She could hear her ladies
whispering behind her. She hugged her shaking arms to her waist.
Robin had his horse standing ready. He could see his bedroll strapped to the
back of the horse. The saddlebags full. The spirited stallion snorted a greeting,
eager to be off. Tatiana was there speaking to Robin.
“Your majesty.” Sharpe bowed before the Queen. The mother of his
“I bid you fair journey, Richard.”
He nodded. There didn’t seem to be anything to say.
“Robin will guide you, but he will not cross. He must not cross.”
Tatiana looked up at the man she had come to love as a son. “Kneel.”
She commanded. Sharpe bent a knee obediently, his head bowed. She took his face
in hers and kissed him. Forehead, cheeks and lips.
“Keep safe, my dear.”
He nodded once again as he rose. Mounting his horse, he controlled it like
a horseman born and wheeling, galloped out of the castle walls, Robin following
Tatiana found her daughter some time later, leaning out of the window in the
tallest tower of the palace. She placed a hand on her daughter’s shoulder
as she look over her head. Two figures on horseback could still be discerned
on the road in the distance.
“You did not tell him, did you?” She asked quietly.
Saraphina shook her head. “It would have been a burden.”
It was a hard three days of travel before they reached a high stone wall. They
walked their horses while they sought the opening, approaching an old Oak grown
into the wall.
“Yes sir. Castor will bring you through.”
Sharpe looked at his batman for explanation.
“Castor was born of a stallion from the other side. He can travel both
“So can I.”
“You’re different, Sir.”
Robin bit his lip as Sharpe dismounted and examined the tree and the wall.
He dismounted hastily as well.
“I have something for you.”
He was reaching into his saddlebags. Removing a carefully wrapped package.
Handing it to Sharpe eagerly.
“I’ve kept it safe, sir. All these years.”
“Years…” Sharpe repeated. Unwilling to countenance what that
meant. His furlough had been for a month. He was very, very late. He unwrapped
the package. Red silk spilled out. He picked up the red sash. The wrapping fluttering
to the ground unheeded.
“Allow me, sir. Please.”
Sharpe handed his officer’s sash to Robin.
“The.. the auctioneer was ready to rend it and burn it. I persuaded him
to part with it.” He was actually quite proud of how he had tricked the
man out of it for mere pennies by stoking his anger at the worthless piece of
ragged silk he’d been forced to accept for his prized captive.
Robin was grinning fit to burst with pride as he looked at his Prince. He looked
every inch the soldier. In the understated green uniform of the 95th Rifles,
black braid and silver buttons. His symbol of rank – a red silk sash –
tied about his waist. He saluted.
“Just mount up and ride Castor through sir. Under the bough.”
Sharpe smiled. He saluted his batman, mounted and placing his trust in his
horse, rode through.
The port was a bustle of noise and activity. Soldiers were mustering. The Purcelle
was in port. The ship that had brought him to England. He held Castor’s
bridle tightly as the horse objected to the noises and smells he was subjected
to the moment he had walked through the wall.
“Hoi! Captain! Over here!” The cheery voice of Sergeant Harper
with the lilt of the Irish in it sounded out from behind him. He turned.
“Whoa! Whoa, boy!” Harper grabbed the bridle on the other side
of Castor’s head.
“Nice mount you got, Captain! Verra nice. Spent a lil o’ yer back
pay didn’cha? I didn’t know you could ride.”
“Com’on, we’ll get this lovely boy stowed on board safe and
sound. The rest o’ the boys are already on board. Yer a little late.”
It was the high summer of the year when an old soldier walked into the village
of Wall. He was wearing the green jacket with silver buttons of the Rifles of
King George’s Army and the red sash of an officer. There was a hole in
the left elbow of his jacket and his sash had seen better days. His boots were
once of the highest quality, but even they showed many years of wear. The steel
on his hip though, which he obligingly showed the young men, was the finest
anyone had ever seen. As the daylight was already waning, he took a room in
the Black Ram and Raven and remarked on the excellence of Mrs. Humphries’
pigeon pie. In the tap room, he was happy to relate what stories he had to the
young men who peppered him with questions and bemoaned the fact that the wars
were long over and they would never have a chance to gain fame and glory, despite
his solemn comment that war was hell.
The morn of the next day found this soldier on the road to the breach in the
wall where he came by two of the same young men he had lifted a tankard with
in the tavern the night before.
“Good morning,” he called as he approached as if to cross.
“Good morning sir.”
“’Fraid we can’t let you pass, sir.”
“No?” The old soldier grinned and drew his sword. They lads had
seen the sword the night before. It was a fine sword. Forged for his height,
balanced for his grip. It gleamed wickedly in the morning sun. The lads gulped
and made their stand, their staffs gripped tightly.
“Who shall try me first then?”
The young men looked at each other and at the ground. Taking advantage of their
indecision, the old soldier shouted and charged right at them.
“Haaah! The 95th!”
Startled, they hesitated too long. He pushed them hard and as they stumbled
aside, he was by them, leaping across the breach with a shout of triumph. He
did not slow either, but continued running.
His blood thrumming in his head, his grin wide, Sharpe continued running. Each
stride taking him closer to his heart. With a shout of joy, he threw his soul
upwards. The young men stared at the mad soldier from the breach in the wall
and blinked as his form seemed to shimmer, then a golden eagle rose, screaming
into the sky.
The eagle soared high, then circled, taking its bearing of the land far below.
Its heart and mind shifted. Became feral, more suited to its form.
The eagle shrieked in response in the thin air.
“Richard!” The voice was joyous. The eagle turned in its direction
and screamed again as it beat is strong wings and flew with the wind.
The great eagle landed on the stone lintel in a flurry of wind and feathers.
After a pause, it launched itself into the room. The air shimmered and in its
place stood a naked man. Tall and well formed. With a shock of dirty blonde
hair. He was unshaven and had the gaunt look of a man that had traveled long
“Welcome back sir.”
The robe was placed gently on his shoulders. Sharpe moved his arms outward
and Robin slid the robe in place, belting it expertly.
“Shave sir? I will have your bath water ready in a thrice.”
As it was before, he was shaved, barbered and dressed by his batman.
Sharpe had not yet spoken. Robin talked, speaking of inconsequential matters,
providing a spate of soothing chatter, watching as his Prince’s eyes turned
from the yellow of the eagle back to the green of the man. He served his Prince
tea laced liberally with brandy and a plate of meat. Cooked but still almost
“You’ve been gone a while, sir.”
“Yes,” his throat and lips worked to form human words again.
“Your daughter is three, sir.”
“Daughter!” He rasped.
“Yes, sir. The Crown Princess Tatiana Elizabeth.”
There was a pause as he chewed on his meat and washed it down with a healthy
sip of tea.
“Is she angry?”
“She called you, sir.” Robin said simply
When he was done with his meal, he felt much refreshed.
“Where is the Princess?” he asked Robin who was laying out pieces
“The Princess? She would be with her nursemaids.”
Sharpe sent an irritated look at Robin.
“My wife.” He grated out.
“The Queen is in session with her advisors, sir.”
Sharpe looked piercingly at Robin who fair quaked in his shoes. Great lords,
he had not lost that look. The Queen Dowager had bid him not overwhelm his Lord
with information but answer his questions as he asked.
“Queen Dowager, sir.”
“As soon as she heard, sir.”
“That you are returned to take your rightful place as King Consort, sir.”
Sharpe was out of his chambers and striding towards the session chambers. Robin
trailed behind helplessly, his arms full of sumptuous robes and other accoutrements
of state. His King was dressed only in linen shirt, breeches and boots. He had
not even a stock tied around his neck. Guards snapped to attention. Courtiers
bowed and scurried out of his way.
The ring of Sharpe’s boots on the marble floor alerted the court to his
presence. Robin had stopped outside the great doors. The soft murmurs grew into
a loud buzzing as the tall man approached the throne, his ringing footsteps
now muffled on the deep carpet. He approached the steps to the dais, his eyes
only for the woman that sat in state on the throne. Saw the Queen’s lips
move. Forming his name on her lips. He bent a knee, his head bowed. The Queen
stood. Slid her hands around his head and lifted it. Cradling his face, she
bent. Kissed him on forehead, cheeks and lips.
Sharpe tasted the salt tears on Saraphina’s lips. He stood, drawing her
up to him.
“Here now,” he murmured, kissing away her tears.
“None of that. I said I would come, did I not?”
Before the scandalized and delighted eyes of the nobles of the land, the King
Consort newly returned from the other side picked up his wife and strode out
of the session chambers with her cradled close to his heart.
The Ballad, Richard Sharpe and the Queen of
Elfland's Daughter was written in accompaniment.
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