men at arms (discworld #15) - Page 5


'There,' she said. 'That's better. Now off you go and keep the streets safe for all of us. And if you want to do something really useful, you could find Chubby.'

'Chubby?'

'He got out of his pen last night.'

'A dragon?'

Vimes groaned, and pulled a cheap cigar out of his pocket. Swamp dragons were becoming a minor nuisance in the city. Lady Ramkin got very angry about it.

People would buy them when they were six inches long and a cute way of lighting fires and then, when they were burning the furniture and leaving corrosive holes in the carpet, the floor and the cellar ceiling underneath it, they'd be shoved out to fend for themselves.

'We rescued him from a blacksmith in Easy Street,' said Lady Ramkin. 'I said, “My good man, you can use a forge like everyoneelse”. Poor little thing.'

'Chubby,' said Vimes. 'Got a light?'

'He's got a blue collar,' said Lady Ramkin.

'Right, yes.'

'He'll follow you like a lamb if he thinks you've got a charcoal biscuit.'

'Right.' Vimes patted his pockets.

'They're a little bit over-excited in this heat.'

Vimes reached down into a pen of hatchlings and picked up a small one, which flapped its stubby wings excitedly. It spurted a brief jet of blue flame. Vimes inhaled quickly.

'Sam, I really wish you wouldn't do that.'

'Sorry.'

'So if you could get young Carrot and that nice Corporal Nobbs to keep an eye out for—'

'No problem.'

For some reason Lady Sybil, keen of eye in every other respect, persisted in thinking of Corporal Nobbs as a cheeky, lovable rascal. It had always puzzled Sam Vimes. It must be the attraction of opposites. The Ram-kins were more highly bred than a hilltop bakery, whereas Corporal Nobbs had been disqualified from the human race for shoving.

As he walked down the street in his old leather and rusty mail, with his helmet screwed on his head, and the feel of the cobbles through the worn soles of his boots telling him he was in Acre Alley, no-one would have believed that they were looking at a man who was very soon going to marry the richest woman in Ankh-Morpork.

Chubby was not a happy dragon.

He missed the forge. He'd quite liked it in the forge. He got all the coal he could eat and the blacksmith hadn't been a particularly unkind man. Chubby had not demanded much out of life, and had got it.

Then this large woman had taken him away and put him in a pen. There had been other dragons around. Chubby didn't particularly like other dragons. And people'd given him unfamiliar coal.

He'd been quite pleased when someone had taken him out of the pen in the middle of the night. He'd thought he was going back to the blacksmith.

Now it was dawning on him that this was not happening. He was in a box, he was being bumped around, and now he was getting angry . . .

Sergeant Colon fanned himself with his clipboard, and then glared at the assembled guards.

He coughed.

'Right then, people,' he said. 'Settle down.'

'We are settled down, Fred,' said Corporal Nobbs.

'That's Sergeant to you, Nobby,' said Sergeant Colon.

'What do we have to sit down for anyway? We didn't used to do all this. I feel a right berk, sitting down listenin' to you goin' on about—'

'We got to do it proper, now there's more of us,' said Sergeant Colon. 'Right! Ahem. Right. OK. We welcome to the guard today Lance-Constable Detritus – don't salute! – and Lance-Constable Cuddy, also Lance-Constable Angua. We hope you will have a long and – what's that you've got there, Cuddy?'

'What?' said Cuddy, innocently.

'I can't help noticing that you still has got there what appears to be a double-headed throwing axe, lance-constable, despite what I vouchsafed to you earlier re Guard rules.'

'Cultural weapon, sergeant?' said Cuddy hopefully.

'You can leave it in your locker. Guards carry one sword, short, and one truncheon.'

With the exception of Detritus, he added mentally. Firstly, because even the longest sword nestled in the troll's huge hand like a toothpick, and secondly, because until they'd got this saluting business sorted out he wasn't about to see a member of the Watch nail his own hand to his own ear. He'd have a truncheon, and like it. Even then, he'd probably beat himself to death.

Trolls and dwarfs! Dwarfs and trolls! He didn't deserve it, not at his time of life. And that wasn't the worst of it.

He coughed again. When he read from his clipboard, it was in the sing-song voice of someone who learned his public speaking at school.

'Right,' he said again, a little uncertainly. 'So. Says here—'

'Sergeant?'

'Now wh – Oh, it's you, Corporal Carrot. Yes?'

Aren't you forgetting something, sergeant?' said Carrot.

'I dunno,' said Colon cautiously. Am I?'

'About the recruits, sarge. Something they've got to take?' Carrot prompted.

Sergeant Colon rubbed his nose. Let's see . . . they had, as per standing orders, taken and signed for one shirt (mail, chain) one helmet, iron and copper, one breastplate, iron (except in the case of Lance-Constable Angua, who'd need to be fitted special, and Lance-Constable Detritus, who'd signed for a hastily adapted piece of armour which had once belonged to a war elephant), one truncheon, oak, one emergency pike or halberd, one crossbow, one hourglass, one short sword (except for Lance-Constable Detritus) and one badge, office of, Night Watchman's, copper.

'I think they've got the lot, Carrot,' he said. 'All signed for. Even Detritus got someone to make an X for him.'

'They've got to take the oath, sarge.'

'Oh. Er. Have they?'

'Yes, sarge. It's the law.'

Sergeant Colon looked embarrassed. It probably was the law, at that. Carrot was much better at this sort of thing. He knew the laws of Ankh-Morpork by heart. He was the only person who did. All Colon knew was that he'd never taken an oath when he joined, and as for Nobby, the best he'd ever get to an oath was something like 'bugger this for a game of soldiers'.

'All right, then,' he said. 'You've all, er, got to take the oath . . . eh . . . and Corporal Carrot will show you how. Did you take the, er, oath when you joined us, Carrot?'

'Oh, yes, sarge. Only no-one asked me, so I gave it to myself, quiet like.'

'Oh? Right. Carry on, then.'

Carrot stood up and removed his helmet. He smoothed down his hair. Then he raised his right hand.

'Raise your right hands, too,' he said. 'Er. . . that's the one nearest Lance-Constable Angua, Lance-Constable Detritus. And repeat after me . . .' He closed his eyes and his lips moved for a moment, as though he was reading something off the inside of his skull.

' “I comma square bracket recruit's name square bracket comma” . . .'

He nodded at them. 'You say it.'

They chorused a reply. Angua tried not to laugh.

' “. . . do solemnly swear by square bracket recruit's deity of choice square bracket . . .” '

Angua couldn't trust herself to look at Carrot's face.

' “. . . to uphold the Laws and Ordinances of the city of Ankh-Morpork, serve the public truft comma and defend the fubjects of His ftroke Her bracket delete whichever is inappropriate bracket Majefty bracket name of reigning monarch bracket . . .” '

Angua tried to look at a point behind Carrot's ear. On top of everything else, Detritus' patient monotone was already several dozen words behind everyone else.

' “. . . without fear comma favour comma or thought of perfonal fafety semi-colon to purfue evildoers and protect the innocent comma laying down my life if necefsary in the caufe of said duty comma so help me bracket aforefaid deity bracket full stop Gods Save the King stroke Queen bracket delete whichever is inappropriate bracket full stop.” '

Angua subsided gratefully, and then did see Carrot's face. There were unmistakable tears trickling down his cheek.

'Er . . . right . . . that's it, then, thank you,' said Sergeant Colon, after a while.

'—pro-tect the in-no-cent com-ma—'

'In your own time, Lance-Constable Detritus.'

The sergeant cleared his throat and consulted the clipboard again.

'Now, Grabber Hoskins has been let out of jail again, so be on the look out, you know what he's like when he's had his celebratory drink, and bloody Coalface the troll beat up four men last night—'

'—in the caufe of said du-ty com-ma—'

'Where's Captain Vimes?' demanded Nobby. 'He should be doing this.'

'Captain Vimes is . . . sorting things out,' said Sergeant Colon. ' 'S'not easy, learning civilianing. Right.' He glanced at his clipboard again, and back to the guardsmen. Men . . . hah.

His lips moved as he counted. There, sitting between Nobby and Constable Cuddy, was a very small, raggedy man, whose beard and hair were so overgrown and matted together that he looked like a ferret peering out of a bush.

'—me brack-et af-ore-said de-it-y brack-et full stop.'

'Oh, no,' he said. 'What're you doing here, Here'n'now? Thank you, Detritus – don't salute – you can sit down now.'

'Mr Carrot brings me in,' said Here'n'now.

'Protective custody, sarge,' said Carrot.

'Again?' Colon unhooked the cell keys from their nail over the desk and tossed them to the thief. 'All right. Cell Three. Take the keys in with you, we'll holler if we need 'em back.'

'You're a toff, Mr Colon,' said Here'n'now, wandering down the steps to the cells.

Colon shook his head.

'Worst thief in the world,' he said.

'He doesn't look that good,' said Angua.

'No, I mean the worst,' said Colon. 'As in “not good at it”.'

'Remember when he was going to go all the way up to Dunmanifestin to steal the Secret of Fire from the gods?' said Nobby.

'And I said “but we've got it, Here'n'now, we've had it for thousands of years,” ' said Carrot. And he said, “that's right, so it has antique value”.'[4]

'Poor old chap,' said Sergeant Colon. 'OK. What else have we got. . . yes, Carrot?'

'Now, they've got to take the King's Shilling,' said Carrot.

'Right. Yes. OK.' Colon fished in his pocket, and took out three sequin-sized Ankh-Morpork dollars, which had about the gold content of seawater. He tossed them one at a time to the recruits.

'This is called the King's Shilling,' he said, glancing at Carrot. 'Dunno why. You gotta get give it when you join. Regulations, see. Shows you've joined.' He looked embarrassed for a moment, and then coughed. 'Right. Oh, yeah. Loada roc—some trolls,' he corrected himself, 'got some kind of march down Short Street. Lance-Constable Detritus – don't let him salute! Right. What's this about, then?'

'It Troll New Year,' said Detritus.

'Is it? S'pose we got to learn about this sort of thing now. And says here there's this gritsuc—this dwarf rally or something—'

'Battle of Koom Valley Day,' said Constable Cuddy. 'Famous victory over the trolls.' He looked smug, insofar as anything could be seen behind the beard.

'Yeah? From ambush,' grunted Detritus, glowering at the dwarf.

'What? It was the trolls—' Cuddy began.

'Shut up,' said Colon. 'Look, it says here. . . says here they're marching. . . says here they're marching up Short Street.' He turned the paper over. 'Is this right?'

'Trolls going one way, dwarfs going the other?' said Carrot.

'Now there's a parade you don't want to miss,' said Nobby.

'What's wrong?' said Angua.

Carrot waved his hands vaguely in the air. 'Oh, dear. It's going to be dreadful. We must do something.'

'Dwarfs and trolls get along like a house on fire,' said Nobby. 'Ever been in a burning house, miss?'

Sergeant Colon's normally red face had gone pale pink. He buckled on his sword belt and picked up his truncheon.