• In the town of Abrantes, Portugal, Sergeant Patrick Harper is using maggots to clean Lieutenant Richard Sharpe's leg wound.
• The author explains that Sharpe's military unit has become separated from their regiment and while most of the regiment have now gone home, Sharpe and his men are stranded in Portugal. They are currently under the charge of Captain Hogan.
• The South Essex Regiment arrive in Portugal, led by Colonel Simmerson, an upperclass gentleman who has bought his rank. To make things worse, he is fond of flogging his troops.
• Sharpe is walking through the town when a young lieutenant on horseback hits him with his whip. He is about to hit him again when Sharpe throws him from his horse and onto a pile of horse manure. Realizing Sharpe is of the same rank, the Lieutenant, introduced as Gibbons, is forced to apologize.
• Sharpe meets Simmerson...
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