The day started with the River Patrol sinking their boat, and only got worse from there on.
Of course wasn’t the first time, Vimes thought as he gloomily watched them pull the damn thing out of the Ankh. There was just, well, something so damn depressing about how it kept unfailingly repeating. And that was without taking into account the fact that after the first couple of times, no matter how they cleaned it, the smell just wouldn‘t go away. Trying to sail on the Ankh was bad enough for your olfactory nerves. Having to stay inside what amounted to a cramped box that might as well be made out of blocks of the stuff was like slow nasal suicide. They were running out of volunteers for the job, and he almost didn‘t have the heart to order anyone to do it.
At least the tugboat didn‘t fall in after it this time.
Captain Carrot* drifted into his field of vision like a friendly eclipse, and saluted. ‘Sir, we’ve just received a pigeon about another robbery in progress on the Ankh side – the jewellers, this time.’
*A name so inherently destined for Saturday morning cartoons that, had the newspaper been invented yet, there would have been comics under that trademark already. As it was, Morporkian graffiti artists occasionally splattered the moniker on handy brick walls in bright and bold letters, and then found themselves wondering why.
Commander Vimes sighed. ‘Does it ever occur to you, Captain, that we are just a little bit understaffed.’
‘As a matter of fact yes, sir,’ his subordinate replied guilelessly, still not having got the hang of sarcasm. ‘We really could do with more people on the beat, and the training school–‘
‘Never mind, Captain. I’ll take care of it.’
Carrot gave an expression that didn’t quite make it up to the definition of ‘An expression of honest doubt’ and definitely didn’t count as ‘Eyeballing’, but was clearly above the minimalistic ‘On the verge of uncertainty, but too polite to bring it up.’
‘Are you sure that is wise, sir? Report says there’s five of them, armed, and you’re due at the Palace in an hour –‘
‘Detritus is on the other side of the city sorting out a traffic jam, Fred and Nobby should be training the new recruits, but are probably leaning against a wall somewhere bumming a smoke. And you, Captain, as the senior officer on site, will be sorting out that disaster.’ Vimes nodded in the direction of the rapidly slipping riverboat, and tried not to inch back as the resulting smell of breaking the crust on the Ankh became overpowering. ‘I can sort this out, thank you. And I’ll bring Constable Angua with me.’
Angua, who had been lurking surreptitiously in the shadow of a doorway, stepped forward. ‘Sir.’
They fell into step, Carrot resolutely not gesturing wildly at their retreating backs, as Vimes would have done himself, and instead going back to the mind-killing process of retrieving the damn boat.
‘You were on the last two arrests,’ he said to the silent Constable as they walked along Short Street. ‘What was your impression?’
‘Shoddy jobs, sir, but effective. It’s the Clay-Kiln Clan, sir. They always bring along a troll for demolition, and lot of muscle besides that.’
‘Hm. I suppose you don’t need much finesse when you can just off rip the door and the head of anyone who happens to walk past.’
It was amazing, thought Vimes, how they learned. Only half a year ago, they had been struggling to teach them to salute. And now Angua could, like a born copper, pronounce that one word with inflections. I’m reasonably sure I’m not the one that should be not-quite called a cur here, he thought. Then he un-thought it, because it was a bloody stupid thought to have, especially about one of his, he admitted in his mind, best officers.
He knew Angua didn’t like him, and didn’t care* as long as she did her job and didn’t hinder him from doing his. It just got on his nerves how polite she was about it. Not that he would have tolerated any cheek from a subordinate, but she could at least glare, or something. Instead she was just... restrained.
*Or at least liked to tell himself that he didn’t care, since he hadn’t exactly given her the best first impression, although she seemed to be the only one on the squad hung up on this.
Probably it was Carrot’s fault. His niceness seemed to be catching, occasionally, and since they apparently had a... Thing,* it seemed to have some effect. He had dealt with that piece of information by not dealing with it, since the Watch had never had any kind of fraternization rules and frankly it was none of his business. And also because he’d sooner set Pseudopolis Yard on fire than talk to Carrot about his love life.
*As Sergeant Colon had told him, in the scandalized tones more appropriate to a washer-woman ,** the implications of which Vimes was still only half-way through eradicating from his brain with a metaphorical pair of tweezers.
**Unless you knew that coppers gossiped just as much, and probably made twice as many veiled comments.
But it was the sort of strained politeness that made any sort of conversation painfully awkward, or would have if he didn’t make a habit of going right through awkwardness like a battering ram.
‘So we’re looking at four-to-five odds give or take, not counting the troll? Probably we could send a pigeon for Detritus for backup, if there’s someone there to read the message for him.’
Angua wrinkled her forehead. ‘Four to five, sir?’
‘I’m pretty sure you even out the odds, Constable.’ Not that he didn’t have a couple of ideas up his sleeve, which hopefully meant that there wouldn’t be any need for a big fight. A slightly smaller fight, though...
The Constable frowned. ‘I mean, if I can get out of my armour in time-‘
Vimes managed not to curse, but did stop walking for just a moment. ‘No, I mean – you broke one man’s arm and kicked his partner so hard in the privates he passed out just the other day.’
Her expression, which he could only see out of the corner of his eye, seemed surprised. ‘Oh – yes, sir.’
He tried to think of some way to explain himself, but couldn’t, and so they hurried across the city in silence.
There was the sound of things breaking, and that of voices on the other side of the door. Well, that wasn’t completely correct; it wasn’t on the other side of the door, because where the door had been was something that looked more like a pile of matchsticks. It wasn’t a tidy robbery.
There was also a dwarf standing, agitated* outside. He didn’t even look up when Vimes and Angua arrived, but stared desolately at the former door. ‘I mean, they could just have asked me to open it or something,’ he said to no-one in particular. ‘They didn’t have to get a troll to trample it down. I had a key and everything. Now I’m gonna lose my job, and Mr. Croup is going to kill me.’
*And when a dwarf was agitated, you could tell, mostly by how they fiddled with their weaponry.**
**Not a euphemism.
‘Sir, could you tell us what happened here?’ Vimes asked him, eyeing the scenery while Angua somehow managed to squint at the door with her nose.
‘They just kicked me aside when I was coming to open up – didn’t show me a Thieves’ Guild licence either.’ The dwarf stared at the wall. ‘Suppose I could go back to the mines. There are only so many ways you can swing pickaxe wrong, and most of them are terminal.’
‘Right.’ Vimes stepped back, and nodded in the direction of Angua. ‘Might want to send Detritus that pigeon now.’ Then he cupped his hands and called into the industrious darkness, ‘This is the Watch! We have you surrounded.’
There was a brief silence from inside, then a disbelieving ‘You what?’
‘Just come out with your hands where we can see them and this doesn’t have to get messy,’ he said. Then he became aware of Angua giving him a funny look.
‘Yeah, right,’ said another voice from inside, this one about as guttural as the first.
‘We’ll give you ten minutes,’ Vimes said. Then he strolled over to the Constable. ‘That pigeon gone?’
‘Yes, sir, but-‘
‘Good. Call for me if anything interest happens, because I’m going to get breakfast.’
He ignored the eyeballing that was no doubt bombarding the back of his skull, and walked across the street to a restaurant. On the sign above the door could be read: ‘Finest Agatean Cuisine’. They probably wouldn’t be done looting the place for another seven minutes, so he’d have enough time.
Behind the counter a clerk with an elaborate set of moustache-and-sideburns turned his nose up at him. ‘This is a strictly reservation-only establishment, sir.’ And the look said, And we would probably make up an eight month waiting list in your case.
‘No need,’ said Vimes cheerfully. ‘I’d just like to have word with the head cook, please.’
The clerk was, in fact, looking so far down on him that he was very nearly looking up. ‘I’m afraid that –‘
‘Especially if you don’t want the Watch to look into how you got half the stuff in your pantry, or that rather nice new chandelier.’
The clerk’s manner changed so fast that he seemed to melt. His voice certainly did, and continued as smooth as clarified butter. ‘Of course, sir, no trouble at all, sir.’
‘Thank you. In fact, ask him if he would mind lending me some ingredients. I’m brushing up on my curries.’
Three minutes later he was outside again, a decently-sized package in his pocket, and was met by Angua returning to the still-burgled jewellers.
‘Got a reply yet?’
‘Detritus is on his way sir, but we can’t–‘
‘Hold this, will you?’ He handed her the package, and as soon as he did her nose wrinkled.
‘What is that, sir?’
‘Just a little present.’
He walked over to the alley between the jewellery and the bakery next door. There, he climbed atop one of the trashcans, miraculously managing not to fall and crack his skull. And, because he had to read the reports and complainants and paperwork these days, he knew that Mr. Croup complained constantly about the smell from the bakery next door. This would have been easily remedied by not coming to his own shop at all instead of only periodically. Or admitting that there were worse smells to live with than that of newly baked bread.* Or simply bricking up the clockwork fan meant to let in a little breeze back when the place used to be a an extension of said bakery.
*Especially in Ankh-Morpork.
He reached down for the package he’d handed Angua, and carefully untied the string. He wondered why they robbers hadn’t gone for the more subtle approach of simply knocking the fan out and climbing through the almost man-sized hole in the middle of the night. They could have emptied the place in half an hour and no-one would have been wiser until the morning. Well, for a criminal gang they were one stupid enough not to have a licence, so great* leaps of ingenuity weren’t to be expected.
*Or quite small.
If they had, though, they wouldn’t have had to deal with Vimes emptying a pound of Agatean Finest Ground Chilli Powder, Extra Strong, right into their air supply.
‘Might want to cover your nose, Constable.’
In fact, nothing much happened for about twenty-three seconds, as they stood by the doors and waited. On the twenty-fourth* the coughing started, and then shortly after the swearing. Those escalated into moaning territory, and after a couple of minutes he thought he could hear someone sob.
*He had been counting.
‘Are you willing to come quietly?’ He called inside.
‘Push off, copper,’ someone croaked from inside the dimly lit building.
‘Oh, dear. You know, I am told that if you get strong spice in your eyes they can actually cause visual impairment, if you don’t clean off quickly. So tell you what – you come out nice and slow and let us handcuff you and we’ll find someone to empty a water bucket over your heads or something.’
The voice, even more hoarse, said, ‘That’s police brutality, that is!’
‘No, you’ve got it the wrong way round. That’s when we dunk your heads in the bucket.’
Beside him, Angua shifted. ‘Should we go in after them, sir?’
‘They’ll come out sooner than later. Besides, Detritus is almost here.’ In fact the troll had just rounded the corner and was knuckling toward them with deceptive speed for someone so massive. He ground* to a halt next to them, and saluted, his hand hitting the clockwork helmet he wore with a small noise. Vimes knew, however, that no matter how often he did this it never got battered, or even scratched.
*And the word seemed very appropriate for someone that looked like a small mountain.
‘You were certainly quick, Sergeant.’
‘Sorted out dat traffick, Sir. One dem carts was blocking Treacle Mine and wouldn’t move.’
‘What did you do?’
‘Fort I might caution the driver, but he were busy having his sock mended, so I picked up the cart and moved it to Easy Street.’
‘Hm. We’ll probably get a complainant about that one – His socks?’
‘Yes Sir. One of dem Seamstress places.’
Vimes did not blink. ‘Well, that’ll remind him to leave taking care of his hosiery outside rush hours.’ He was pretty sure he heard Angua snort, but didn’t turn to find out.
‘Good work, Sergeant, but we might need you for something a little bit more energetic now, depending on how this goes. Oh, here they come...’
In fact it was just one man, but he was walking slowly and bumping into the doorframe. Tears were streaming from his eyes, and they, along with the rest of his face, were red. ‘Look, he croaked, seemingly unable to make any of them out. ‘Will ye just let us come out and give us some water, alright? I can’t feel my face!’
‘Really? I know it gives my curry a nice kick. Alright, you can come outside – single file. And that means all of you, including Mister Slate, who I realize may not be particularly bothered.’
The gang – six of them including Slate, as it turned out, put up almost no fight, as most of them were too busy crying to do anything else. And Slate, after Detritus had given him a good wallop about the head, sat down sullenly among his fellow gang members and glared at everything that passed into his field of vision.
The formerly depressed dwarf had made a beeline for the sacks the robbers had been carrying with them. He very nearly stuck his head in one to inspect the contents, and fussed the entire time. ‘They just threw it all in! No regard for other people’s would-be property... Gold bends very easily, you know!’
Vimes sauntered over to him. ‘Sir, we will need to take your statement regarding the incident, Mister..?’
‘Hacknee, the dwarf mumbled, still going through the bag with rising fervor.
Angua picked up another sack. ‘This is all worth a whole lot, sir. They would probably have got at least 500 AM$ just for this one-‘
The sack, which had not been made for holding quite a lot of small but heavy pieces of metal and stone, tore.
There was the sound of Angua being hit by a small avalanche of jewellery, or, a werewolf coming into contact with an armful of silver.
Several things happened quite fast; two of the thieves, which Vimes had taken pity on and given his water canteen, and who happened to not be handcuffed because there just weren’t enough cuffs to go around,* took to their feet in opposite directions. Angua, who had fallen to her knees in pain, snarled and grabbed her baton and sent it spinning into the head of one, who went down like a tree. The other was about to be detained by Detritus when Hacknee hurtled into his legs and brought him down, wielding a heavy Omnian armring like a knuckle duster with malice that was, if not aforethought, then at least now enthusiastically considered.
*Which he had noted several times but intended to bring up on the next budget meeting with Lord Vetinari in no uncertain terms.
Vimes caught him by the shoulder and hauled him off the man, while the dwarf continued yelling what was certainly dwarfish profanity. ‘Lay off, lay off! He’s gotta be mostly in one piece when they bring him in front of the judge.’
‘I’ll lose my job and he’s just gonna try and walk away? Not bloody likely!’
‘Will you please calm down sir, or we are going to have to arrest you for armed assault!’
The dwarf settled down so fast it was almost eerie. ‘Right. Right? Sorry.’
Vimes gave him an odd look, and then went over to Angua, who was hunched up still by the scattered pile of rings and necklaces and amulets of silver. Even though the thieves didn’t seem very careful about most things, they apparently liked to sort their loot early.
There was a Growl. The growl was worrying. In fact, it was exactly the sort of noise that communicated to every mammal with a working brain that the growler was injured, but that that injury was nothing in comparison to what the growlee might wake up to if they didn’t piss off right now.
Nevertheless, Vimes moved closer and, when he glanced down noticed that the jewellery wasn’t scattered as far as all that. He crouched down and swept away half a dozen rings that had been burning into the Constable’s knees and picked up a sparkling necklace that had left a horribly scarlet mark on her calf. The skin was smoking slightly.
He felt bewildered, but only briefly. This wasn’t all that different to normal injury in the line of duty. ‘Alright, let’s get you back to the Yard.’
There was a grunt, but it was rather more human and had less fangs in it.
He ventured another attempt. ‘Need a hand?’ In the background, he could hear Detritus lecturing Hacknee on the proper treatment of prisoners while holding a couple by the legs to stop them from running away.
She finally looked up, and her face was so white it almost melded with the wall behind it. In simple terms, she looked like someone whose day had in fact just gone so wrong that it would be absolutely impossible, or at least cruel and unusual, for this state of affairs to continue. ‘It’ll get better on its own,’ she said, getting to her feet and obviously making an enormous effort not to stagger. ‘I’ll just be fatigued for a while.’
Vimes glanced over at the prisoners and the Sergeant, then at the Constable who looked ready to murder something but also as if she might fall asleep half-way through. ‘Right. Detritus, can you get these men over to the Yard by yourself?’
‘No problemo, Mister Vimes, tho the blinded ones might be trouble.’
The dwarf Hacknee, whose eyes blazed with the kind of zeal you expect from someone who’s long gone off the end of their rope and is enjoying the trip, said, ‘I volunteer as escort, Commander! I don’t trust these buggers to do what’s best for them.’
‘Good call. We’ll meet you back there in half an hour.’ He nodded at Angua. ‘Let’s go.’
‘What – where, sir?’
‘It’s only a couple of streets.’
In fact, it was less than that, and not long after they were standing in front of Harga’s House of Ribs. Angua stared at the sign. ‘I thought you already had breakfast at the Agatean place, sir.’
Was the tone of her voice very nearly acerbic? Either the pain was worse than it seemed, or she was finally giving into a copper’s lead-plated sarcasm. ‘I got peckish,’ he answered, and pushed open the door.
Sham Harga was polishing a glass behind the counter,* and looked up with a grin. ‘Oh, hello Cap – Commander. Been a while since we had you in here!’
*Or at least buffing the smudges to a kind of sheen.
Vimes sat down by the counter. ‘I try to be home for dinner these days Sham, but I’m feeling nostalgic. A number four for the Constable, please?’
‘Right you are, Commander.’
Constable Angua sat down gingerly next to him, and gave him a cryptic look. ‘Aren’t you going to get anything, sir?’
‘Well, the coffee here is pretty much solid, so I think I’m set.’ A dish piled so high with various foodstuff that might be perilous to identify clanked on the counter in front of Angua, and she stared at it.
‘That’s the ‘Eat ‘til it hurts’ special,’ Vimes said, reaching into his pocket for his cigars. ‘Tuck in.’
‘... Sir, why?’
He lit one, grateful that Sham hadn’t, in the spirit of a growing trend in restaurants, decided to ban indoor smoking. ‘So you can’t do anything for the burns, fine. But I’d say dealing with those kinds of injuries takes a lot of extra energy. I generally eat like, if you’ll excuse the expression, a wolf, whenever I get stabbed.’
Angua hesitated, but only for a moment. Then, barely pausing to pick up a fork, she indeed did proceed to wolf the food down. He’d been right, then.
Between bites, she managed to say, ‘...You get stabbed a lot, sir?’
‘It has been known to happen.’ In fact he was pretty sure he had enough scar tissue to strike a match on, but you weren’t supposed to bring that kind of thing up in polite conversation.
And then the memory hit so hard that he could only stare blankly ahead as it played across his vision.
He’d only been in the Watch for a couple of years then, when he’d had an altercation with one of the nastier sorts that liked to hang around the docks where the Seamstresses had to go out for business. Back in the bad old days. The bastard hadn’t understood that even if you paid, if you were told to back off, you backed off. And, when Vimes had interfered, he had knifed him in the arm. He felt weirdly nostalgic at the thought that it had been his first stab wound. And old Leggy Gaskin, who had come running in the direction of the ruckus* had got him seen to and then taken him here, right here to Harga’s, for a big meal before sending him home to sleep it off. Because there wasn’t enough food back in Cockbill Street to get your health back on.
*But not too fast, because it would be easier to sort everything out afterwards than interfere in an actual vicious fight.
He’d managed to forget all that, even the good parts, for twenty years, and now blazed in his mind as if to brand itself there hard enough that he wouldn’t be able to scour it away again.
He looked up, and the movement dislodged the ash at the end of his cigar. It dropped into his coffee cup with a sizzle. He stared at it resignedly. He’d drunk worse than that, you could bet he had, but there was a difference between compulsion and a choice. ‘Sorry,’ he muttered at Sham, who was looking a bit worried, as far as it was possible to tell beyond the permanent five o’clock shadow.
‘You were miles away, Sam.’
‘In another country, yeah,’ he said, but changed the subject. ‘What time’s it?’
Sham glanced at a cracked watch that hung from a nail above the counter, and said ‘Probably somewhere around ten.’
It wasn’t just yet, then, since they hadn’t heard the many inaccurate clocktowers start their clanging yet. ‘And I’ve got to be in front of the Patrician for another bloody council meeting by ten,’ Vimes muttered, and stood up, leaving his coffee untouched on the counter. ‘Alright, go back to the Yard, Constable – chances are we’ll need you on the beat by tonight as it is.’
Angua pushed away her plate with a nod in Hagra’s direction, which was more thanks than he usually got. ‘I’ll escort you sir. Captain Carrot said you might need a dispatch from the Palace.’
‘Did he say why?’
Angua was poker-faced. ‘To quote, he said that ‘depending on how cross the meeting will make him, it might be for the best if there’s someone to relay messages indicating how he need be otherwise engaged.’
‘Huh.’ That was Carrot for you. Even his officer-management was polite to the point that you might mistake him for a choir boy and not a damn policeman.
As they hurried towards the Palace, Vimes cursed again the thought of the hated council meetings. The thought of spending another hour* in a stuffy room full of ‘civic leaders’** talking through issues that really had nothing to do with his job and in any case could be sent by memo or something did not appeal. The fact that Vetinari seemed to enjoy torturing him with the prospect didn’t make it any better.
*Or probably longer, given the efficiency of committees.
**I.e. people with a lot of money and a correspondingly bloated sense of self-importance who complained a lot.
They weren’t late, but it barely felt like a consolation. The only people already there were the head of the Thieves’ Guild, the Teacher’s Guild* and Queen Molly off the Beggars, which, to Vimes at least, was probably the closest to blameless of the boiling lot of them. And Vetinari, of course, who was sitting surrounded by paperwork at the end of the slightly rickety table,** and looked up at Vimes’ entrance.
*Who was sitting by himself and twitching occasionally.
**Which nevertheless failed to collapse a few months later when... “someone” stuck an axe in the middle of it. Vimes would never voice it, but he suspected the Patrician had had it reinforced just so he’d be able to keep the damn axe.
‘Ah, Commander. I trust the arrest went without further incident?’
‘I heard that things got rather spiced up at the end.’
Vimes’ gaze riveted itself to the wall approximately a foot up and ten inches left of the Patrician’s face. ‘Sir.’
‘Although I gather a good breakfast will remedy most things.’
He won’t even let me walk into the room before starting those damn games, Vimes grumbled sullenly in his mind. Thank the gods Angua had taken a position outside the council chamber. He wasn’t sure she’d have been able to keep a straight face. Mind you, she’d developed an impressively wooden expression that could do in a pinch, but to deal with the Patrician you were better off going right past ‘wooden’ and straight onto ‘marble.’
Sometimes he wondered how he was supposed to respond. “Wow, you really do spy on almost everyone that’s troublesome enough, impressive.” Or “I am actually quite terrified by the fact that you seem to know everything I do even before I do it.’ Or maybe he just liked you to know that he knew that you knew. Probably the thought gave him some small satisfaction.
He settled for another ‘Sir.’ and sat down on an uncomfortable chair, resisting the urge to put his feet up on the table. With his luck it wouldn’t take the weight, and anyway, the Patrician would give him a look.
The rest of the council filtered through the door in ones and twos, and the room gradually filled with chatter, a lot of it in the nature of ‘X is quite unacceptable and Y doesn’t seem about to do anything about it,’ although the actual significance of the placeholders varied from sticky political situations to the butler not polishing the silver well enough. At last, Vetinari glanced up from his paperwork as if he was quite surprised to find them all of a sudden in various states of discomfort before him. ‘Well,’ he said, and laid down his pen. ‘Let us begin.’
It was the same old stuff, or same new stuff, depending on how you looked at it. After all he’d only been involved for a short time. The Watch had never had a real duty before. He had never had responsibilities* but now he had to worry about, and more importantly, sort out things like traffic, and quotas and finances and civic events and –
*Or rather, as the part of him which had made it so easy to drown himself in a bottle liked to remind him, he did have a Duty. He just hadn’t done anything with it for the better part of thirty years.
Anyway, he was glad enough when they were all dismissed, and was out of his seat and about to leave when an annoyingly posh voice* interrupted his thought process.
* Which was really most of them.
‘-and we must show a united front.’
‘Hm?’ His face was in its usual default state of blank rockface, but became even more so when he realized his mind had drifted off and he had missed the last two minutes of discussion.*
*Or, more accurately, extremely polite argument.
‘I said, there is the soiree to the Genuan delegation this evening,’ said Lady Selachii,* sounding rather miffed. She was surrounded by several other Concerned Citizens,** and they were blocking his route to the door. ‘It will be paramount that every person of importance in the city be there to greet them.’
*Who in truth managed all of her family’s political affairs, her husband having all the diplomatic nous of a lightly poached egg, which his face rather resembled.
** Which was what Carrot tended to call those who were constantly sending in complainant letters to the Watch on things that really had nothing whatsoever to do with lawkeeping, like the general attitude of the lower classes, or how many dwarves and trolls were out in broad daylight these days.
‘Mhm.’ Vimes mentally translated that to “convince them to turn over every penny we can remove with a hook and maybe not consider going to war with us because of it.” ‘Excellent. Now if you wouldn’t mind, I have a job to do-’
It was then that he became uncomfortably aware that the woman was very definitely eyeballing him. It was an unusually straight-forward expression for someone so wealthy.
He blinked. ‘If I have something on my face, you could just tell me.’ Over the muttering of the small group attempting to mimic the Agatean Wall he was almost certain that he could hear a distant snort. Just how thick were the walls of the Palace anyway? Or, more importantly, just how good was the hearing of werewolves?
‘I mean, Commander,’ said Lady Selachii in tones so chilling as to cause minor freezer burns, ‘That your presence will be required tonight, as your wife is unable to attend.’
The look she received in return went right past old-fashioned and straight into paleolithic. He could grudgingly admit that the latter part made sense. After all Sybil was in Quirm for the annual conference of the Friendly Flamethrowers League. But he utterly failed to see how that meant he had to stand in. Actually, he’d have thought they’d want the shabbily dressed and impolite head of the Watch as far away from the proceedings as possible. Especially given the fact that he regarded the aristocracy simply as the less accessible tier of the criminal classes.
Yes, said a thought in his head that, unnervingly, managed to remind him both of Sybil and Lord Vetinari.* But you are also the wealthiest landowner in the city. You hold a position of growing power over its people. After all, you went after the head of the Assassin’s Guild, regardless of personal peril, in the face of the favourably regarded tradition of contractually murdering civic leaders.
*Who was happily ignoring the current conversation taking place in the Council Chamber in favour of subjecting his paperwork to minute inspection.
That wasn’t me, he thought. That was all Carrot, and anyway, I didn’t go after Doctor Cruces for taking a pot-shot at Vetinari. He’d already killed two other people. Not to mention the effects of that damn Gonne...
Yes, but that is how other people see it, said the thought.
Someone had to do it!
And that someone is Commander Sam Vimes.
It was a horrible thing, to have your own mind gang up on you like this. He settled for a simple ‘Fine,’ which he absolutely refused to admit might sound rather petulant.
He did get the pleasure of seeing Lady Selachii taken aback by this sudden compliance, but she wasn’t about to give up quite yet. ‘If I may suggest,’ she continued in a way that made clear that it was nothing as polite as a mere suggestion, ‘That a another officer accompany you in the absence of her Ladyship?’
‘Good grief, what for?’ As if they didn’t all have enough on their hands with just one officer going off to waste time at bloody silly parties.
‘Simply to preserve the image of strong civic powers in Ankh-Morpork, Commander,’ said Lady Selachii smoothly. ‘I suggest Captain Carrot.’*
*This insistence did not make sense to him until several months later, when he saw her among the plotters arguing around that same table in the wake of the Patrician’s returning health. And again as the lot of them left the room in a hurry one axe blow later. The thought of how long so many people had patiently planned and re-planned that whole mess caused him to invest in two more bear traps and a whole lot of barbed wire in a fit of paranoia.
‘I’m not leaving the Watch without a senior officer for an entire night,’ said Vimes briskly. This was broadly true – he’d rather not leave them in the hands of Colon or Detritus, especially with their lack of understanding of diplomacy and the occasional common sense. And there was the rising tension between gangs in the Shades to consider. But all these “suggestions” were getting on his nerves, and so he said, ‘Constable Angua should do fine.’
He ignored ensuing expressions of snootiness from Lady Selachii and those in her immediate vicinity, but amazingly Mister Potts of the Baker’s Guild* had the bravery to say, ‘Oh, I say, Commander, don’t you think there would be someone more suitable..?’
*Who was so nouveau riche that he had somehow managed to incorporate fake ermine fur into most of his wardrobe.
The question mark hung on the end of the sentence like a meat hook.
‘Can’t say I do,’ said Vimes cheerfully.
‘I’m sure that your decision to employ women in the Watch does you credit, but I really think someone more highly ranked-‘
‘Oh, you’d prefer Corporal Nobbs?’ Vimes cut him off gleefully. ‘That should be fun! Have you seen that trick he does with his spots?’
‘Er...’ The man began, but stopped at Vimes’ expression.
‘If you are going to waste my time, then you’ll leave the decision of how to manage my Watchmen up to me. Now, if you don’t mind.’ He pushed through the gaggle of aristocrats thinking, He’s only just become guildmaster and he thinks he can tell people what to do – that he can tell the Watch what to do. He’ll be a real terror if he ever gets further...
And he quashed the memory that was fighting every synapse of his brain to be heard.
‘How’d it go, sir?’ Asked Angua once he exited the room. She’d been standing inconspicuously in the lee of a nearby alcove, and hurried to follow him as he strode down the corridor.
He gave her a sour look. ‘You tell me.’
She had the grace to mildly apologetic. ‘Sorry, sir.’
‘If we’re lucky there’ll be a gang fight tonight and both of us will be out of there before it even starts.’
‘That bad, is it, sir?’
‘You have no idea.’
‘I think I could guess.’
He shot her a surprised look, and then remembered the full name on the file. “Von Uberwald” had to be something more than just the name itself. ‘You do, do you. Been to these dreadful things before, then?’
‘Some. You learn the pattern quickly enough. My mother had... ambitions.’
They were silent as they hurried down the steps of the Palace. Then Angua said, ‘Sir?’
‘Why pick me?’
‘As much as I’d love to step on a few toes, we’re probably better off without an international incident with Genua. And I’m pretty sure you’ll know how to deal with all those knives and forks and horrible tiny sandwiches without terminally insulting someone.’
And the memory resurfaced again, saying, Mrs. Vimes, sitting gray-faced and sewing by candlelight in the poky rooms you could barely stretch to fit a family of ants – or any of the ladies on Cockbill Street, really. Scraping together a living on pennies alone, and there was nothing else they could do to keep the family alive, because people probably wouldn’t hire them but also because they would never presume. They would never put themselves forward, in case it meant they were getting ideas above their station, even on the off-chance it would make providing for a family of a dozen just a bit easier. Even when there were husbands or fathers to bring in some coin, the world at large refused to acknowledge that those tired women could do more, and needed to do more if they were ever going to get out of the crushing cycle of ‘huge families, nonexistent income.’
Not that there had been that many people in the Vimes household. Thomas Vimes hadn’t stuck around for long enough for there to be any siblings, and there were just his grandparents, and later only his mother, and then...
Anyway, the comparison didn’t make any sense. Angua probably came from a much wealthier family and would have ended up as the werewolf equivalent of Lady Selachii, or as some offensively rich twat’s wife. But the tone of the man’s voice had rankled, the act of writing people off because worth somehow added up to where you came from or who you or your family were giving Vimes the urge to gently introduce the baker’s face to a handy brick wall.
‘Anyway, maybe if I insult the Genuan ambassador badly enough they’ll let us leave in the name of damage control.’
When they made it out to the street, Vimes had barely managed to breathe the fresh* air when his nose was assaulted by the pervasive smell of Corporal Nobbs, who sidled up to them out of some fetid alley. ‘Ullo, Mister Vimes.’
*Although such a descriptive would be hard to put on the ever-present Ankh-Morpork smog, it still always felt better than breathing among the people who made up the city council.
‘Nobby,’ he replied wearily. ‘I don’t suppose you have a good reason to be here instead of on patrol?’
‘No need to be like that, sir,’ said Nobby reproachfully, nodding at Angua, who shrugged in return.* ‘The Sergeant said to tell you all that gang activity’s been dyin’ down. Prob’bly they’ve settled things for now, the patrols are saying.’
*As usual, Nobby’s talent at getting along with more or less absolutely everyone did not fail to impress, although Vimes would later wonder if it had been eclipsed by the Constable’s unfailing talent to spot and encourage when members of the squad wanted to wear dresses.
‘Nevermind, Nobby. Run along and see if they’re right – someone might just be waiting for the other shoe to drop.’
‘Yes, sir.’ Nobby shifted from one foot to the other, looking incredibly uncomfortable, at least as far as it was possible to tell from his regular posture. ‘Erm...’
‘Well, out with it, man.’
‘Er... Fred said to ask you if you knew what day it was.’
‘What?’ Vimes barked. ‘Of course I do, it’s Tuesday, twenty-fourth of –‘ He stopped.
Even though Nobby never quite looked people in the eye, he was doing so even less right now. ‘Yes, sir. Um. I’ll just, I’ll just go and-‘
‘Tell Fred I’ll talk to him tomorrow,’ said Vimes determinedly, and began striding down the street again. ‘I’ve got things to sort out right now.’
‘Oh! Oh. Yes, sir.’ He sidled hastily around a corner and disappeared. Angua followed Vimes’ quickening stride down Short Street, the nosy sort of look on her face that was second nature to a Copper who had been on the beat for any time at all.
‘Let’s get back to work, Constable – real work, as far as I’m concerned, although it seems Vetinari likes to get the other sort in my way. And then we’ll wash our hands of that bloody soiree or whatever it is called as soon as we get the chance.’
I can’t think about it right now, he thought. I don’t have time. So I’ll keep forgetting, I’m good at that.
After all, I’ve got practice.
The damned affair was held, as it turned out, at the Selachii estate a little way outside the city walls, a fact that immediately made Vimes leery. Oh, sure, there might have been paved roads underneath the carriage wheels, but the suddenly muted roar of the city made him nervous, and things he couldn’t identify in the bushes outside made strange noises he couldn’t decipher. The smell also confused him for a while before he came to the conclusion that it was, indeed, that mysterious creature country-dwellers referred to as ‘clean air.’ It wasn’t a suburb – it was barely even an urb.
Something that sounded like one of those little wooden figurines in cuckoo clocks had finally snapped in the proletariat monotony of telling the hour, and used its tiny hammer to get up to some Luddite-spirited violence, rang out all too close to the coach, making him jump.
‘Woodpecker,’ said Constable Angua.
He couldn’t see her face due to the encroaching darkness outside, but with any luck that meant she couldn’t see his. He wondered if he should give some sort of meaningless platitudes, but decided he’d definitely end up sounding the more nervous one. And, blast it, he probably was. Not in the way that led people to mumble or stammer, but the sort that made them clock some poor arse across the face because they were a handy substitute for whatever was plaguing them. If he was lucky, he’d be out of there before that happened, but he wasn’t feeling at all self-confident in the fact.
The coach rolled to a stop, and outside, the horses stomped a couple of times. Outside, the driver tapped a couple of times on the window. Vimes rolled his shoulders, and opened the door. ‘Right. Let’s get it over with.’
‘After you, sir.’
They stood a while before the ostentatious manor which cut a light-streaked glare in the darkness of the planes outside the city, and then Vimes nodded sharply. ‘Let’s go.’
The marble steps looked grand, but not so much as to cause any soreness of feet in walking the few steps from the drive to the front door. By the look of it, they were late, and not even fashionably so. He had waited until the very last moment to leave, in case the Ankh-Morpork underworld finally paid up and landed them a decent distraction. There had been nothing, not even an unlicensed mugging.
Inside, a couple of servants standing by the double doors to the ballroom, or whatever it was, went to open them as they approached, but didn’t get there before the Commander had pulled them open. Thankfully, they were almost perfectly balanced, so the stunt actually worked, but his shoulders still caught fire. They were still damn heavy doors.
The sedate conversation inside dipped a fraction when they entered, but rose again almost instantly. The footman looked around wildly as he entered, Constable Angua at his shoulder. Vimes took pity in him, since he was only trying to do is job, and nodded in his direction. ‘Commander Vimes and Constable Angua, City Watch.’ Well, he’d get away with that for the time being. Sybil would probably give him a Look once she heard of it, but for now he could at least be as offensively working-class as possible without descending to Nobby’s level.
There was one positive thing about Sybil being out of town – at least he didn’t have to wear his dress uniform. Oh, he’d polished up a bit, but if they wanted him at the damn soiree it would be as Commander of the City Watch, not as Sir Samuel.
The same went for Constable Angua, although he had a sneaking suspicion that Carrot had gotten a hold of her armour, which might be just as well since they’d eventually found out that what with how much he polished his own there was a danger of there not being any metal left.
In any case, they looked entirely out of place in a room full of furs and silks and feathers. He liked it that way.
A figure floated up to them across the polished hardwood floor. It was Lady Selachii, and she was pink with displeasure. ‘Sir Samuel,’ she said through clenched teeth. ‘We expect you and your... escort, half an hour ago.’
‘Perils of the job, my lady,’ he answered, noting the inflection. ‘We just couldn’t tear ourselves away.’ Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the Constable’s face go wooden. With any luck it would be the default for the evening, and no-one would be the wiser.
The woman pulled herself together, and put on the beatific smile of a hostess in her element. ‘Then I simply must introduce you to some people – I’m sure the Constable will prefer returning to her post –‘
Vimes cut right through the sentence like it was treacle. ‘That’s soldiers. We prefer to be on patrol, if not alternative presents itself. And didn’t you say something about presenting a united front?’ He smiled. It was not at all a nice smile.
The reaction was a reward in itself. Less sour expressions had been made, but only by people forced to swallow an entire lemon.
In the end, they were whisked across the room, and introduced to two men and a woman who all wore a rather more up to date version of the clothing favoured by Genuan nobles than the rest of the room, which had merely copied it and were several months out of date. They were having a rather stilted discussion with a man with an absolutely atrocious moustache Vimes remembered after some time to be Viscount Skater. He was almost tolerable, compared to the general quality of Ankhian aristocracy, since he hadn’t yet committed any atrocious crimes the Watch had found out about. And he seemed more interested in his hunting dogs than in making money off people so far beneath him on the social ladder he’d have to bend down to see them. He was genial enough, although his tendency towards a horsey kind of laughter really didn’t help matters.
Judging from the glazed looks on the faces of the delegation, he was on about his dogs again, and although she didn’t do anything so coarse, Lady Selachii looked as if she could cheerfully hit him over the head with a chair. ‘Wilberforce,’ she said between clenched teeth. ‘I do hope that you are not tiring our esteemed guests.’
‘Wouldn’t dream of it, my dear,’ neighed the aristocrat. ‘I was simply explaining to them the principles of fox hunting – do you know they don’t do that over in Genua? Too many swamps, apparently –‘
‘How delightful,’ Lady Selachii cut in. ‘But I simply must interrupt your fascinating discussion. Commander, if I may introduce you to the Ambassador Durango Macarona*,’ here, a man in a deep scarlet suit bowed, ‘And the –‘ she tripped over her words just a little just then, ‘Consorts to Baroness Saturday, Lady Boneyard and Sir Cross.’
*A cousin of Bengo Macarona, although one not quite so academically accomplished.
Vimes looked at the two of them; Sir Cross wore a suit so breathtakingly debonair he might just take off like a bird at any moment, and Lady Boneyard wore a severe black dress that went surprisingly well with the friendly smile atop it. Although the smile was rather strained now, and so was the one of her companion. Consorts, plural, eh? Well, he wasn’t going to say anything. Especially since the nobs close enough to strain their ears and listen in were almost certainly expecting him to.
He nodded. ‘How do you do.’* The casual address was enough to make Lady Selachii almost apoplectic with fury, but the delegation didn’t seem to mind.
*He might not have noticed himself, but had he asked the Constable she might have inferred that the instant they entered the manor his accent, which normally wasn’t nearly as working-class as that of Nobby or the Sergeant, went almost as far down the ladder as it could go, and took the timbre of his voice along with it. Vimes loved to vex the upper classes, even on a subconscious level.
‘Commander Vimes,’ nodded the Ambassador. ‘It is interesting to meet you.’
‘Let’s hope it won’t stay that way. It’s usually a bad day when things get interesting.’ He gestured at his subordinate who was, rather unsuccessfully, trying to lurk behind him. ‘This is Constable Angua.’
‘How do you do?’ Said Lady Boneyard, looking at Angua with interest. She saluted in return.
‘We’ve heard a great many things about you,’ said Sir Cross.*
*Whose voice was so smooth that in an alternate universe it might inspire comparisons to butter substitutes.
‘That right?’ Said Vimes. Here we go...
‘Is it true that you once arrested a dragon?’ Asked Lady Boneyard.
Oh? Not more veiled commentary on how he was a class traitor and gold-digger? Interesting. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Angua’s head turn towards him with mechanical slowness, and stare. He ignored it. ‘That story is largely exaggeration. For example, I’m certain that half of the city didn’t burn down, or that a thunderclap from heaven caused the Tower of Art to collapse. I was there, I’m pretty sure I’d remember.’
‘And the dragon?’
‘Oh, that part is true, although we had to let it go on bail.’ Well, Errol had pretty much paid their dues by getting the damn lizard to leave. It was an easier explanation than the truth.
‘Interesting,’ said the Ambassador, and Vimes’ deeply humbling upbringing bit him on the backside, telling him to be mindful that nothing good came of drawing the attention of a noble, even one from a different country.
Satisfied with proceedings, or at least unable to openly complain, Lady Selachii excused herself and hurried off for some heavy-duty social engineering. There was some relaxation in those present. It was hard to say anything at all with someone listening who was obviously memorizing every single thing you said and would probably produce a written record of it later if they found you making contradictions.*
*An attribute not so surprisingly shared by the Patrician.
The Ambassador raised his glass of vine a fraction, and eyed Constable Angua as one might eye a cabinet curiosity. ‘I was unaware that there were women employed in your city’s Watch. Indeed, I was under the impression that the only professions available to them here was in traditionally feminine roles. Or as, hah, seamstresses, I believe you call it.’ He grinned, as if he were waiting for applause at his shining wit.
Vimes was about to make some kind of reply that would probably have caused a minor international incident, but stopped at the significant change in the air next to him. He looked up. Angua’s shoulders were back, her head raised, and she was affecting a general stance that the criminals of Ankh-Morpork had learned to fear. ‘Actually,’ she began, ‘I thought those traditionally feminine roles – laundressing, cooking, coal-shoveling, child-rearing, that sort of thing, would be far too physically taxing. I mean, it’s not as if you get much recompense for the fourteen hour workday. In the Watch we mostly just walk and chase and, of course, arrest people.’ She smiled, revealing all of her teeth. The Ambassador’s expression was stuck in a fixed rictus, as tended to happen to people when Angua smiled at them, or rather, their throat.
‘That, and while I considered apprenticing with the esteemed Guild of Seamstresses, I eventually came to the conclusion that I just wasn’t enough of a people person.’
The spell broke, and Sir Cross threw back his head and started to laugh, with his co-consort obviously trying to not do the same. Vimes was certain he wasn’t hiding his own shit-eating grin as well as he should. Lady Boneyard said around the corners of her smile, ‘We’ve been attempting to legalize our own guild – we meant to seek Lord Vetinari’s advice on the matter.’
‘I’m sure he’d be thrilled,’ said Vimes. Oh, yes. Everyone liked to talk about how legalizing the Thieves’ Guild had been what had ‘civilized’ Ankh-Morpork, but most people liked to forget that the Seamstress’ Guild had come first. Indeed, it was rumored that this was largely how he’d got elected. After all, legal or not, the Guild had always had power.
The Ambassador’s own teeth appeared, and his gaze latched onto Sir Cross, as he seemed a target less likely to rip out his jugular. ‘Indeed – such a modern endeavour. I seem to recall that you were a ‘guild member’ before your knighting.’
Sir Cross calmly took a sip of his brandy. ‘Still am. Equal opportunity employment is a fine thing.’ Despite the polite tones, the temperature seemed to fall by several degrees. Vimes wondered if they could take advantage of the diversion to escape, but felt sorry for the delegates if their host ever caught wind of a rift such as this which could be profitably exploited.
And then the tension broke again – for a completely different reason.
‘I say! I won’t be surprised if you sort out this whole trading business in a jiffy!’ It was the neighing voice of the Viscount, who had amiably and without quite seeming to comprehend what was going on been listening to the conversation. ‘I should have realized you’d be known to each other, Vimes!’
There was a puzzled silence, which extended for some time. Then, when he heard the Constable at his side clear her throat in discomfort, it dawned on Vimes that if anyone made a colour chart using the the occupants of the room as inspiration, he would be situated quite close to the visiting Genuans and rather far from most of his fellow Morporkians.
He risked a glance at the delegation, and was very nearly gleeful to see the tableau of expressions being exchanged. It said: I may not particularly like you, or you me, but at least we can all agree that, for the moment, this man’s shining stupidity eclipses the fact. It was amazing, Vimes reflected, how easily complex disputes could be buried in the face of one idiot.
He was aware of Angua looking at him, as if waiting for him to explode, but instead he reached for his cigars. ‘Never been to Genua,’ he said. ‘Heard they really know how to throw a party.’
‘But-‘ began the Viscount, doubtlessly about to disprove the theory that he couldn’t possibly be more stupid than he looked. Vimes cut him off.
‘Had grandparents from over Howondaland way, as I recall.’ He methodically searched his pockets for matches.
Lady Boneyard regally inserted herself into the conversation. ‘Which is further away from Genua than Ankh-Morpork is from Bes Pelargic, if I remember correctly.’
‘Indeed,’ mused Sir Cross. ‘We import the most wonderful dates from there.’*
*In certain circles, the organically grown Howondalandian calendars were a much-sought commodity, although they, much like cuckoo-made clocks, were horrible at tracking time.
Lady Boneyard suddenly looked across the room sharply. Then she bowed – it was definitely not a curtsy – and said, ‘You must excuse us – I am afraid we have some matters to attend to. It was most revealing meeting you, Commander, Constable.’ She nodded at the two of them, and then she and her companions left.
The Viscount, who seemed only slightly nonplussed, shrugged. ‘I think I’ll go besiege the drinks table, then. Farewell!’
Vimes watched the lot of them leave, and then turned to Angua. ‘Maybe if we’re lucky Carrot will have sent a message by now – what’s wrong?’ The Constable had turned an interesting shade of beige, which only just resolved into a more live-like hue as she tried to untense.
He gave her a Look. She matched it with one of her own.
Vimes had more practice. She gave up. ‘I only remembered about half-way through chatting with the Ambassador that it wasn’t the same as telling off some boy at the fish market.’
Vimes shook his head. ‘It still is the same.’
She frowned. ‘It’s not. I mean, they might make the mistake of trying to assault a Watchman on duty, but they generally can’t post bail immediately after. And none of them are rich enough to have me assassinated instead if they get annoyed at me.’
He struggled to find the right words. ‘Okay, you’re right, but... It shouldn’t be different. And that matters. Just because he’s a rich bastard with a lot of influential friends doesn’t mean he should get away with being a total knob.’
She gave him a strange look. ‘If you say so, sir.’
‘Nip out the back and see if we’ve been sent a pigeon, will you?’
When she had gone, still wearing that look, he skulked over to the drinks table, and looked glumly at its contents. Of course they never served anything that wasn’t alcoholic at these events – people had it hard enough putting up with each other without being forced to drink something that didn’t make their brains tingle. But he felt parched, and the heat of the hall wasn’t doing him any favours.
Lemonade... hah. Used to be that he’d be through a bottle by himself by this time of night, and would probably be opening another with his teeth around now. Seemed that it had always been that way. But had it? Surely he hadn’t been born with a bottle of whiskey in one hand, and he could remember his first sip well enough. Back when he and Iffy Scurrick had only been fifteen and one of Iffy’s mates had picked up a case that had fallen off the back off a cart. But that had just been adolescent excitement, and in any case the massive hangover the next day did its job for a while.
And then there had been another first – a bottle of rotgut that had probably been fermented in someone’s cellar and, by the taste of it, involved rats at some point. He had been sitting on the cobbles outside Treacle Mine Road after they had finished covering up the bodies, and Fred Colon had sat down next to him and wordlessly handed him the bottle, because if anything had ever needed forgetting, it had been the day.
Come to think of it, if there was something that should be kept forgotten –
He wrenched the thought around as if with a crowbar, and turned and stalked along the walls of the room until he could smell the fresh night air wafting from the half-open doors to the exit. He burst through, but only realized he’d picked the wrong door – that is, the one to the balcony – when he noticed the two people already there leaning against the railing.
‘Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt –‘ he mumbled, but before he could turn around and leave, one figure straightened up with a smile.
‘No worry, Commander. We were just regrouping to plan our next endeavour.’ It was Lady Boneyard, and she was standing quite close to Sir Cross, her hand on his arm. Even as they turned to Vimes she did not pull away.
‘What she means is,’ said her co-consort, ‘The party has gotten horrifically boring and we were attempting to escape for a while.’ She swatted him scoldingly, but laughed all the same.
‘It’s probably not going to get any better than this,’ said Vimes, attempting to look as if he wasn’t preoccupied. ‘Sorry about that.’
‘Well, what can you do. I don’t suppose you want to be here any more than we do,’ said Sir Cross. He pulled out a cigar. ‘You wouldn’t happen to have a light?’
Vimes passed him his matches.
‘In all honesty,’ said Lady Boneyard. ‘We just wanted to do our bit in the negotiations, but the Ambassador assures us that this, too, plays a part.’
‘And here I was under the impression that diplomats weren’t supposed to be honest,’ said Vimes. ‘I suppose it’s easier to make people hand over their money and goods if you pretend to like them first.’
There was a pregnant pause, and then Cross laughed again. ‘I can see why our host was so agitated when you arrived,’ he said. ‘You’re new at this aristocracy thing, aren’t you?’
‘Oh, dear, what gave me away? The lack of ‘H’s in my vocabulary or the fact my ancestors never got the chance to breed out any inconvenient chins?’
‘The complete and utter irreverence was a hint.’ Cross passed the matches on to Lady Boneyard, who took out her own packet of cigarettes, and lit one.
‘Like Macarona said, amateur tailoring which, yes, is a euphemism. And Marceline,’ he looked at his companion with quite a lot of fondness, ‘Used to trade in fine fabrics, which isn’t one. And now we’re both engaged to the Baroness Saturday.’
The look they shared nearly caused him to look away. Somewhere around the second month of their marriage, Sam Vimes was forced to face the fact that deeply loved his wife. This was a terribly difficult thing to admit for a man who couldn’t even say the word without having to go stick his head in an icebox. He settled for, ‘Sounds like a long story.’
‘And not one we’ll be telling tonight,’ said Lady Boneyard. ‘As it is, I think your fellow Morporkians already believe us far too barbaric.’
Vimes grinned. ‘That lot in there? At least they aren’t actually allowed to belt you over the head with a two-by-four if they think you’re looking at them funny.’
‘And here I thought the upper classes were meant to be civilized,’ lamented Cross. ‘Although I suppose that doesn’t equal intelligence. I felt moved to explain to the Viscount that not being blindingly pale did not equate to knowing everyone who shares that attribute.’
Vimes accepted back the matches, and lit his own cigar. ‘Eh, some things have started to change.’
‘Well, ten years ago all you had to do get first in line to the bar was to be heavily scarred and look ambiguously brown.’*
‘Now I have to give them a nasty look as well.’
*Vimes knew of the adage that a man with a horrible scar over his eye would never have to pay for a drink in any bar for the rest of his life, and had indeed wondered, in his lower moments, whether the profit would be worth the hassle. This caused him some grim amusement when, several years later, he received such a scar, but no longer had any use for it.
For the first time, Lady Boneyard laughed – in fact it was more of a full-on chortle. ‘I can see that must be a great loss,’ she said, attempting to sound solemn and failing.
‘Where did your very forthright Constable go?’ Asked Cross, and Vimes was about to answer when there was the sound of a salute in the shadow by the door.
Just how long has she been standing there? Vimes wondered. I remember being keen, but this is bordering on bloody vehement, and also just a little bit creepy. ‘Any news, Constable?’ He asked, trying to keep his tone level.
‘None, sir. It’s completely quiet out there.’
At which point a waiter hovering nearby with a drinks tray chose to move over. ‘Refreshments, sir?’
‘I certainly hope so.’ He reached for the glass of clear liquid, downed the contents-
-and went completely still.
‘Commander?’ The Lady looked at him with concern. ‘Is something wrong?’
Vimes stood still for another few seconds, and then, as politely as he could manage, spat the contents back in the glass. ‘Seems to have gone off,’ he said. ‘I’d check the rest, if I were you.’ He put the glass down carefully on the marble railing.
‘Really? Shame,’ Cross commented.
‘And now, if you would excuse me...’
He left before he could finish the sentence, into the hall, past an eavesdropping Lady Selachii. The hallway went by in a blur, and by some chance or hidden luck, he found a bathroom, one so ostentatious that it was bigger than some people’s houses. But for once, that wasn’t what was on his mind.
Rum. When had he last drank it, never mind anything so fine? Oh, he could remember, the way he had remembered barely anything for the last twenty years. ‘Grune 17th, year of the Indecisive Eagle,’ he muttered. Constable Yaxley’s funeral. It had been one of the few when it hadn’t rained.
He rinsed his mouth out in the sink, taking a huge gulp, and when that didn’t work splashed some water on his face. Was it supposed to be this hot in here? And even then he was sure he was starting to shiver.
Twenty-five years. Well, twenty-four years and a bit. And he could remember it as if it was yesterday, like he hadn’t for almost as long. Probably better than he remembered yesterday, in fact.
Hah, he’d brought the bottles over – although they’d only needed the one, and then the station was in flames, and he’d asked Keel about the other one, and Sergeant Keel had turned to him and said –
‘Constable?’ His eyes refocused in the mirror, and made out the image of a wary Constable Angua over his right shoulder. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘You... rushed off, sir.’
-and even though he’d walked through the cellars with their sound-proofed walls, he still hadn’t seen as much as Colon or Nancyball, who had whispered the words when they thought he couldn’t hear, as if saying them made the world dirty –
He blinked again, and tried to compose himself. ‘Just – a bit of a drinks mixup. Nothing important.’ A thought occurred. ‘I would have appreciated a warning.’
She shifted on her feet, and didn’t meet his eyes. ‘I just thought that was your regular order, sir.’
For a second he couldn’t even speak through the anger. ‘Are you absolutely – I’ve been sober for six months! You think I wanted a drink?’
‘... No, sir...’
‘Really? Because I do. Almost every day, but I can’t, I mustn’t.’ The anger slipped away almost as fast as it had arrived. ‘Not even one. Do you understand?’
There was a silence, and she stared at the floor. ‘Yes, sir.’
He could see a glimpse of her collar just peeking out from under her shirt. ‘You do, do you?’ He grabbed the edges of the sink harder, so the shaking of his hands wouldn’t show. ‘Then I hope you’ll appreciate I am not having a good time right now.’ Desperate impulse caused him to continue. ‘Of course it’s probably nothing you haven’t seen before.’
She started. ‘What?’
‘You were there after Vetinari tried to take my badge. And let’s cut the ‘sir’ for now, hm? As I recall, you didn’t have a very high opinion of me even then.’ He could see her face go stiff with apprehension, and grinned horribly. ‘Oh, I didn’t hear what you said at the time – but the funny thing is, I’m remembering all sorts of things these days! Even some of the stuff I didn’t remember in the first place.’ His chest hurt with each breath, and he wondered detachedly if he was in for the tremors. Even when he’d gone through withdrawal, it had never got that bad. He wondered if he’d even know it if he started to hallucinate.
He laughed. ‘You might have been wrong about that – about the book, but the funny thing is, you’re probably right about the rest of it.’ In his mind’s eye, the horror-house of the Unmentionables burned brightly, even brighter in memory than it had been in real life.
‘Sir, we need to get you a doctor.’ Her voice only wavered a little bit, but was firm enough that he recognized an order when he heard one.
He shook his head slowly. ‘A doctor isn't going to fix this, Constable, especially not in Ankh-Morpork. Better... Better I just wait it out. But I’m going to ask you to do me a favour.’
‘Is that an order, sir?’
‘Do I really look like I’m in any position to give orders right now?’
She didn’t say anything.
‘I need you to tell me what I did today.’
She wrinkled her brow. ‘Sir?’
‘Constable, if you say ‘sir’ in that stupidly vague voice one more time, I am going to drown myself in this sink. Never mind, just, just leave. I’ll do this myself.’
There was a nearly imperceptible silence. Then: ‘This morning, you arrived at the Yard at 7:58, having finished your earlier shift at half past midnight the night before. You received a complainant letter personally delivered from the spokesman for the Campaign for Equal Heights, and made a sarky comment about how maybe we should hire three dwarves for every human to be fair, which the spokesman distressingly thought was a very good idea. Then the pigeon from Constable Trusser arrived, telling us that the river boat had sank again, and you went to oversee its extraction...’
As she went on, Vimes gave in and leaned his forehead against the mirror. What an end to a ridiculous day. He was pretty sure that this wasn’t the sort of state his subordinates were supposed to see him in, but that was just his luck. And if he was very lucky, she’d be able to look him in the face after all this was over, even if she could never actually respect him.
Not that he felt all that worthy of said respect.
But for now he needed to be sure because... because he had spent so many years forgetting things that, for once, he needed to remember. He needed to be certain that this wasn’t just another distorted blur through the bottom of a bottle. That the last six months hadn’t been some twisted dream, that he still had the ground below his feet. He went to reach for his badge, but hesitated, and instead palmed the coin the supervisor of the meetings had given him. They gave you a coin, someone had explained to him. First for a day without the drink, then the weeks, months, years after. No sharp edges, too. That was a good choice. He still had the scars in the palm of his hand from the badge.
By gods, he hoped he’d make it all the way through a year.
...they rise hands up, hands up, hands up, they rise hands up, hands up high...
He drifted back to the Constable’s seemingly endless monologue when she said, ‘-and really I was expecting you to punch him in the eye so I thought I’d better get there first.’
The ambassador. Right. ‘Can’t let people go around disrespecting officers of the Watch,’ he muttered. ‘And anyway, I wouldn’t have punched him too hard.’
‘You probably wouldn’t at all, sir, except maybe verbally. But it was nice to see the look on his face, after.’
‘It’s not like the Watch has ever had rules against women serving. Besides, you defended Mrs. Palm and her associates pretty ardently.’
‘Honestly? I was lying, sir – Mister Vimes. I never wanted to work with them, I just didn’t like the thought of the Ambassador getting away with looking down on them like that. Especially since he looked the type to seek out their services and brag about it afterwards.’ She seemed to debate the thought for a moment, and then said, ‘Mind if I sit down?’
‘Go ahead, although it’s not as if we have chairs.’ He followed her, leaning back against the chilly tiles, which was a welcome change from the horrible heat.
‘And then you talked with the consorts, and then there was-‘
She faltered. The incident with the drink. Of course.
Desperate to think about anything else he asked, ‘How’s your leg?’
She looked surprised again, and Vimes wondered dimly if he’d really been that bad at looking out for the squad. ‘It’s almost healed,’ she said. ‘Silver burns usually don’t last long. Um.’
‘Thanks for, uh, not making a big deal out of it. Sir.’
‘Don’t worry about it.’
She nodded, but apparently couldn’t stand the silence, so she said, ‘And I think I should complain about the deficiencies in my job description. No-one said anything about arresting dragons when I joined.’
Amazingly, he found himself on the verge of laughing. ‘You’ll have to take it up with the Patrician, it was his idea to recruit for the Watch again. Although really the dragon thing was mostly Carrot’s fault.’
‘Well, you wouldn’t know form listening to him, would you? Most people, when they do something extraordinary, bring it up from time to time.’
‘He’s not really ‘most people’, is he?’
She grunted in return. They sat in silence for some time, at opposite ends of the great tiled room.
Then she said, ‘Just as long as it’s not a regular thing. Maybe there should be a special insurance category for that.’
‘They tried, but was too much of a hassle to get people to pay up afterwards.’
‘Family tended to complain. Nothing much you can do to contest your own will when you’re a pile of cinders.’
Ah, here came an even more recent one: The image of the silhouettes on that burnt wall in the Shades. Although it had long since been demolished, and most of the city had carried on, there had been some who couldn’t. Fred had told him about the man who had confronted the King,* because he’d had three daughters and didn’t want any of them sacrificed to the damn beast. There had been no funeral, because there had not been anything to bury. And so three more names had discreetly found their way into the Watch’s Widows & Orphans fund, even though the girls never found out about it.
*Or as it had turned out, Queen.
‘Was it true, sir? About how Ankh-Morpork used to be?’
He blinked again, and fished around in memory for what she meant. ‘Well, it wasn’t untrue, although that’s largely on the nicer streets. The taverns I went to go, usually no-one was sober enough to discriminate much.’
She hid a grimace. ‘I see.’
‘What time is it?’
‘Probably around a quarter to ten, I think.’
That should be enough, then, for them to get away with leaving. Right now, he just wanted to go home and sleep, if his mind would let him.
Angua rose to her feet, and he accepted her hand to pull himself up, although to be frank it was her doing most of the work. They left for the hallway, and he thought they might make it out unmolested, until Lady Selachii swooped in on them, her voice deafening after the quiet of the bathroom.
‘Ah, Commander. Good. If you will just come with me so that I can introduce you to –‘
Which was when Angua stepped up. ‘I am afraid you will have to excuse us, ma’am, but we have had an urgent summons from Pseudopolis Yard and cannot possibly delay any longer.’
‘What?’ Spluttered the woman. Then she narrowed her eyes. ‘Who are you to address me like this! I will have you know that I am a Lady, to the likes of you!’
And Angua saluted, with a swagger that would have sent any drill sergeant worth his stripes into a frothing rage. ‘I am a Watchman, ma’am, and I am going to do my job regardless. I hope you will excuse us, since I am sure you have more important things to deal with.’
She received an icy look in return, but Lady Selachii also looked confused by the inharmonious combination of wording and attitude. ‘Be sure your superiors will hear of this, girl,’ she said with a sneer.
‘He’s standing right here, ma’am, and he doesn’t seem to mind. And if you don’t mind, we’ll leave now.’
Bewildered, Vimes trailed after her out the door, catching a glimpse of Lady Selachii’s equally nonplussed but much angrier face. And he thought, glancing back at the Constable, She is born to be a sergeant. That had to be one of the smoothest officer-managing he’d seen from someone so close to being a rookie. He’d have to look into getting her promoted once they had enough officers.
They climbed into the soft darkness of the coach, and Vimes only relaxed once he felt it start moving in the direction of the city, or at least as far as he was able to do so.
‘Thank you,’ he said, and was now a little less glad of the darkness, which meant he couldn’t make out her face. But he thought that, in the brief flashes of light illuminating the night, that there might be some sort of smile in there.
‘Don’t worry about it.’
Here was the cemetery gate to Small Gods, and here was the gravel path that wound somewhat irregularly among the headstones. And there was Legitimate First, peering at them from the windows of the crypts, and there was Reg Shoe with a shovel, industriously opening his own grave so that he could spend some time there in solidarity. He gave them a little wave, and disappeared under the turf just as they arrived at the row of seven headstones.
They stood there, like always, in silence. Well, not always – Vimes usually wasn’t there. Usually, he’d been so terribly drunk by now that he’d be on the verge of passing out, which had been made all the worse because he was still conscious. Usually, he came alone, before anyone else had the chance.
Not today, though. Not today.
He hadn’t brought anything, and neither had Nobby or the Sergeant. He couldn’t imagine what would have any meaning in the circumstances.
Eventually, Colon said, ‘Should probably come up here some time and clean up a bit.’ Vimes got the feeling that he always said this.
Nobby grunted. Then he said, ‘They’re here.’
They all turned to watch Mrs. Rosemary Palm and her partner in life, Miss Sandra Battye* come up that same path, Miss Battye carrying a beautiful but understated wreath.
*Although no-one knew the particulars of that relationship, nor were they about to ask.
‘Good morning,’ said Mrs. Palm as they reached them. ‘Commander. We usually don’t see you here.’
Vimes muttered a greeting back, but then his eye was dragged inexorably to the wreath, which the actual needlewoman was placing carefully against a particular headstone. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘You... brought the egg.’
‘Yes.’ Mrs. Palm smiled, in an uncharacteristically fond way. ‘You know, he used to say that even if we wouldn’t get truth or justice, it was just possible that he might have a hard-boiled egg...’
‘Yes. I know.’ For a moment, he wondered what her role had been, behind the political curtains of how it eventually all went down. Of why she wore the lilac. Then he discarded the thought, because he might as well ask that question of himself.
‘I see Mister Shoe has already settled in,’ said Miss Battye, looking with mild curiosity at the disturbed plot to her side.
‘Nice of him,’ commented Colon.
They all stood there in silence. At some point, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler arrived, with a sprig of lilac on his hat.
There were no words, because they didn’t seem as if they’d do the job. Then, after an interval that must have lasted some time, yet felt like a moment, they turned, and left the cemetery.
As they split off from the rest of the group, Nobby pulled a dogend from behind his ear, and lit it. ‘What do we tell the rookies?’
‘Why should we tell them anything?’ Said Colon, a touch viciously. ‘It’s none of their business.’
‘They can go on asking. They weren’t there.’
‘So long’s you don’t terrify them when they do. I remember when young Carrot asked, and you very nearly bit his head off.’
‘Well, he didn’t ask again did he?’ Colon subsided. ‘Anyway, it’s ours. To remember.’
‘And one day there’ll be no-one left to do it,’ said Vimes. He wasn’t sure why he said it, or why it had been praying on his mind.
They both gave him a concerned look. Then Fred cleared his throat.
Vimes scowled. ‘Is this the part where you try to diplomatically enquire if I’m going to drown myself in a bottle as soon as your backs are turned?’
‘Could be, could be,’ said Colon hurriedly. Nobby just looked at him, smoking his horrible cigar.
‘Well, I’m not. In any case I don’t have the time. I’m due at the palace in half an hour, and I’m sure Vetinari would get sardonic if I arrived dead-drunk.’
Colon looked wretched. ‘I didn’t mean it like that, Sam.’
Vimes cursed himself at that well-meaning face. ‘No, you didn’t.’ He glanced at Corporal Nobbs. ‘And you, Nobby? What are you going to do?’
Nobby Nobbs stubbed out his cigarette under the heel of his boot. ‘’S not like I’m going anywhere,’ he said. ‘After all, he gave me a spoon.’
It was remarkable that, no matter how many times he sat in the antechamber to the Patrician’s office, listening to that damn clock, Vimes didn’t immediately haul off and stab the next person to address him. Shame. It seemed a much simpler way to live.
It didn’t register as odd when he was shown in after three and a half minutes of waiting instead of the customary five, or the fact that Lord Vetinari was standing by the window instead of being seated at the desk as he normally was.
‘Ah, Vimes. I gather last night went well?’
‘The reception for the Genuan delegation.’
‘Oh. Yes, sir?’
‘At least, no-one seems to have declared war on us yet, so I suppose that can be counted as a victory.’
‘Yes, sir.’ Does he know, Vimes thought, And is refraining from mentioning it? Or isn’t it relevant to wellbeing of the city and thus irrelevant to him?
‘Indeed, from our preliminary meeting this morning it seems that the agreements will turn out most favourably.’ The Patrician turned around. There was a sprig of lilac pinned to his robe.
Vimes’ mind raced, but he wouldn’t have let it show on his face even if a furious hippo had charged through the door at that very moment. ‘That good, was it?’ He said. ‘I’ll have to see if I can get the Ambassador to gamble in cards. Sounds like it might be a lucrative deal.’
The Patrician gave him a Look, and stalked to his desk to retrieve some piece of paperwork.
Why does he wear it? Vimes thought. Why haven’t I seen him wear it before? Well, the latter was obvious – this was the first time on – on that day that he’d met with Lord Vetinari. Before it had almost always just been Wonse and the rest of the time he’d been too out of it to go anywhere, especially as far as the Palace. But why did he wear the lilac?
‘There is a complainant about you on behalf on the Lady Selachii,’ the Patrician said, holding aloft a piece of paper. ‘She said you left far too soon.’
‘Well, she would say that, wouldn’t she? Seeing as she apparently thinks the appropriate time to end a party is sometime the week after.’
The Patrician raised an eyebrow. ‘It is, of course, not my business to comment.’
Why wasn’t he making any of his thinly veiled comments or, come to that, horrible puns? Not just on what day it was, come to that, but also that he had to have known about Vimes’ lapse the night before. But he just talked about the things he would usually talk about to wind him up.
The Patrician continued. ‘The complainant was also about Constable Angua’s conduct.’
‘Well, to quote her ladyship’s letter, it says that the Constable acted like a ‘jumped-up girl with ideas above her station who should be immediately let go due to her lack of respect for her betters.’’
Vimes wrinkled his forehead. ‘Really, sir? That’s a very serious accusation.’
‘I trust that you will take measures to react?’
‘Oh yes, sir. Only one thing for it.’
‘And that is?’
‘Looks like I’ll be forced to promote her.’
The Patrician turned around abruptly. ‘I am sure you will do as you see fit, Commander. Now, I think you will soon have enough on your hands due to the suspicious lack of crime yesterday. People might go overboard in order to compensate.’ He sat down at his desk, the only colour in the foreground a splash of purple. ‘Do not let me detain you.’
And Vimes didn’t. He didn’t even punch the wall on his way out, but walked silently and without particular hurry through the corridors until he was outside, on the steps of the Palace, looking down across the square.
And he decided he wasn’t going to find out, because the past was a complicated enough place as it was without someone coming along and reorganizing your perception of what had happened and the meaning of events. More people had Been There than he could know, especially with how poorly he’d been paying attention, and how could he possibly know what the lilac meant to them? Besides, it was not the kind of conversation you wanted to have with your boss.
His feet, tragically shod in boots too fine for him to properly feel the cobbles, nevertheless carried him through the city without him knowing quite where he was going. And even then, it wasn’t a particular surprise when he looked up and saw the street sign above him. Treacle Mine Road. The Republic had spanned more than just that single street, but that was what it all came back to. Not that there was anything left now. Even if he had wanted to go reminisce all there was a pile of stones and fading charcoal. Not that he did...
Another couple generations and all this would be forgotten, and it would just be a footnote in the history books. A part of him wondered if that wasn’t alright. After all, he’d spent twenty five years trying to forget, what right did he have to complain?
But the seven graves came back to him, no matter how he tried to convince himself.
He turned around with a start, and saw Sybil climb out of a carriage, still wearing her dragon breeder clothes minus armour, as if she’d only just stepped out of the kennels for a breath of fresh air.
‘Wha- I thought you weren’t returning from Quirm until tomorrow!’ He said, properly flabbergasted.
She met him half-way across the street, and brought her arms around him in what would have been a rib-crushing hug, if she didn’t happen to know exactly how to hug people the right way. ‘I came back a day early,’ she said, as she pulled back to see if he still had all his bits on. ‘Brenda’s price stud unexpectedly exploded during assessments. It quite brought the mood down, you know.’
‘Perils of the fancy.’ She leaned back, and smiled. ‘So, what have you been up to? Insulted anyone interesting while I was away?’
He suddenly felt lost for words. He looked back at the carriage, where the driver was waiting patiently, eating an apple. Then he looked down, and back at her. She was watching him attentively. ‘Walk with me?’ He asked.
She wordlessly offered her arm, and together they walked, away from Treacle Mine Road. There wasn’t much of a crowd at this time of day, but they dodged a few people who couldn’t be bothered to move out of the way. He was dimly aware of the figure they must have struck – her about a head taller, although this had stopped making him self-conscious about a week into their relationship. There simply wasn’t any room for any of that between them.
How to begin? ‘Tell me,’ he said. ‘What day it is?’
‘Wednesday, isn’t it?’
She laughed. ‘And of course, the anniversary of the People’s Revolution, which was, as I recall, the last revolution we had in these parts. My, but it’s been a while.’
Of course she’d know. Suddenly, it seemed impossible that she wouldn’t.
‘And, er. Where were you, then?’
‘We lived in Pseudopolis Yard, then. To be honest, we didn’t have much part in it. My father took one look at the cavalry on the street and forbid me to go outside until it blew over.’ She turned her gaze to him, suddenly serious. ‘Why?’
He tried to find the right words, but settled for the truth instead. ‘Last night, there was, I don’t know, some social to-do, and I couldn’t find an excuse not to attend.’
She nodded. ‘I heard. The Selachii’s place, right? Probably they wanted to look good to those Genuans in case it bought them any favours.’*
*While Lady Ramkin was a naturally kind-hearted person, she was also a realist, and had very little patience for Lady Selachii, who had delighted in making up all kinds of rumours as to why she hadn’t married. Not that she really gave a damn, but it also didn’t give her any cause to like the woman.
He struggled for a bit, and then said, ‘Last night I, I messed up. Uh, I almost relapsed, and I wasn’t in a good place for a while.’ He looked down to avoid looking at her face. ‘Don’t know if I still am, to be honest.’
She took his hand in her own. ‘Tell me.’
He did, and when he finished, she held his hand tightly in the crowded street.* ‘An accident, then?’
*As anyone fond of watching crowds will tell you, you can have very private conversations in public without anyone paying attention to you, so long as you keep moving.
‘Yes, but... I almost wish it hadn’t been. At least if I had decide to, I don’t know, chug an entire bottle of whiskey and set the buffet table on fire, at least it would have been my choice.’
‘It would certainly have given the delegation pause,’ said Sybil, and gave a small smile when he sent her a contrite look. ‘I understand, Sam. Well, maybe I don’t, not perfectly. But you mustn’t beat yourself up about it, even though I know you’ll do your damndest to.’
‘I should be better,’ he said, and meant it.
She stopped a moment, and turned to him. ‘Oh, Sam.’ She squeezed his hand again. ‘Do you think you aren’t allowed to make mistakes? If you keep thinking that way, how will you ever move forward? And do you think I don’t see how hard you try? It’s alright if you feel it to be difficult, Sam.’
He fell silent, overwhelmed by how absurdly lucky he was, to have made it this far, to be standing here, right now, with her. ‘There is more,’ he said eventually.
‘I thought there might be.’ She gave him a gentle smile. ‘Do you wish to tell me?’
He thought about the barricade, and the song, and the blood, and the seven graves. And he thought of John Keel, who he suspected had not done what he had to be remembered, but because someone had to do it, and because it was the right thing to do. Maybe they had a certain right to be forgotten, and to rest without reckless people looking at their deeds in paper and holding them up as heroes.
But just because of all that, it didn’t mean that he had to forget.
‘I think I do,’ he said.
She smiled at him, and took his arm, and together they walked the city.
Outside Pseudopolis Yard, the training school was in full swing, although this did not necessarily mean that it was anything approaching orderly. Really it was a gaggle of people that mostly had never held a sword or baton in their life or, if they had, had done so with distressing enthusiasm. But they were all being beaten into shape – not literally, although Sergeant Detritus’ roaring voice was almost a physical force in its own right. Vimes had to take a step back so that he wouldn’t be deafened by the sound.
‘Sword arm UP! Right food FORTH! Present elbow! JAB!’
Vimes grinned. He had taught them that, even if it was Detritus delivering the lecture. Distract whatever productive member of society that was currently waving a knife at you with something shiny and metal on your own and, because you’d get in real trouble if you actually stabbed them, take them out with an elbow or your extremity of choice before they hurt themselves or you.
He turned, and saw Constable Angua walking towards him, trailing the dwarf Hacknee from yesterday.
She nodded in the direction of the nervous dwarf. ‘Mister Hacknee came over this morning to see you. Says he wants to enlist.’
‘Enlist, eh?’ He looked over at Hacknee until the dwarf realized he was being asked a question, and reddened.
‘Well, we don’t enlist people in the Watch, Hacknee. We recruit them. And the difference is that soldiers are enlisted, and you are not a soldier, just a civilian in a funny hat. That means that you do as you’re told, but if someone gives you a damn stupid order, you better think twice before obeying. Got any practice with a sword? Or an axe, come to that?
The dwarf stood up taller, now that it seemed things might be going his way. ‘Of course, sir! Been wielding a chopper since I was but a wee one. Of course,’ and here his expression soured. ‘That Mister Croup would never let us carry one on shift. Might not have been robbed if he had, the bastard.’
Over his shoulder, Angua balked. Forbidding a dwarf to carry an axe was like forcing them to shave their beard.
‘Go around to the desk Sergeant on duty and sign up, take the oath, get your kit. Detritus should be able to fit you in.’
After the dwarf had scurried off, Angua leaned against the brick wall, and enjoyed the bit of early summer sun. ‘Another day of life in the big city?’
‘Close enough. Maybe we can hope for another.’ He wondered, for a moment, if he should say something, but one glance at her face told him that it wasn’t necessary. Maybe if we’re going to accept the cracks in ourselves, we’ll have to make room for others to do the same.
‘Why the lilac?’
And he thought about it. For a while, he really thought about it. Then he looked up, past the milling crowd of recruits and the mountainous form of Detritus, and past the gates and the river and the smogs and the throngs of people.
And the thought about the city as it was, and the city as it had been. And the difference mattered.
‘Because I was there.’