Men at Arms Page 2

'Er, sorry, Mr Edward, I 'ad a few glass plates left and the demons weren't tired and—'

'Next slide, please. And then you may leave us.'

'Yes, Mr Edward.'

'Report to the d-uty torturer.'

'Yes, Mr Edward.'


'And this is a rather good – well done, Bl-enkin – image of the bust of Queen Coanna.'

'Thank you, Mr Edward.'

'More of her face would have enabled us to be certain of the likeness, however. There is sufficient, I believe. You may go, Bl-enkin.'

'Yes, Mr Edward.'

'A little something off the ears, I th-ink.'

'Yes, Mr Edward.'

The servant respectfully shut the door behind him, and then went down to the kitchen shaking his head sadly. The d'Eaths hadn't been able to afford a family torturer for years. For the boy's sake he'd just have to do the best he could with a kitchen knife.

The visitors waited for the host to speak, but he didn't seem about to do so, although it was sometimes hard to tell with Edward. When he was excited, he suffered not so much from a speech impediment as from misplaced pauses, as if his brain were temporarily putting his mouth on hold.

Eventually, one of the audience said: 'Very well. So what is your point?'

'You've seen the likeness. Isn't it ob-vious?'

'Oh, come now—'

Edward d'Eath pulled a leather case towards him and began undoing the thongs.

'But, but the boy was adopted by Discworld dwarfs. They found him as a baby in the forests of the Ramtop mountains. There were some b-urning wagons, corpses, that sort of thing. B-andit attack, apparently. The dwarfs found a sword in the wreckage. He has it now. A very old sword. And it's always sharp.'

'So? The world is full of old swords. And grindstones.'

'This one had been very well hidden in one of the carts, which had broken up. Strange. One would expect it to be ready to hand, yes? To be used? In b-andit country? And then the boy grows up and, and . . . Fate . . . conspires that he and his sword come to Ankh-Morpork, where he is currently a watchman in the Night Watch. I couldn't believe it!'

'That's still not—'

Edward raised his hand a moment, and then pulled out a package from the case.

'I made careful enq-uiries, you know, and was able to find the place where the attack occurred. A most careful search of the ground revealed old cart n-ails, a few copper coins and, in some charcoal . . . this.'

They craned to see.

'Looks like a ring.'

'Yes. It's, it's, it's superficially d-iscoloured, of course, otherwise someone would have spot-ted it. Probably secreted somewhere on a cart. I've had it p-artly cleaned. You can just read the inscription. Now, here is an ill-ustrated inventory of the royal jewellery of Ankh done in AM 907, in the reign of King Tyrril. May I, please, may I draw your a-ttention to the small wedding ring in the b-ottom left-hand corner of the page? You will see that the artist has hel-pfully drawn the inscription.'

It took several minutes for everyone to examine it. They were naturally suspicious people. They were all descendants of people for whom suspicion and paranoia had been prime survival traits.

Because they were all aristocrats. Not one among them did not know the name of his or her great-great-greatgrandfather and what embarrassing disease he'd died of.

They had just eaten a not-very-good meal which had, however, included some ancient and worthwhile wines. They'd attended because they'd all known Edward's father, and the d'Eaths were a fine old family, if now in very reduced circumstances.

'So you see,' said Edward proudly, 'the evidence is overwhelming. We have a king!'

His audience tried to avoid looking at one another's faces.

'I thought you'd be pl-eased,' said Edward.

Finally, Lord Rust voiced the unspoken consensus. There was no room in those true-blue eyes for pity, which was not a survival trait, but sometimes it was possible to risk a little kindness.

'Edward,' he said, 'the last king of Ankh-Morpork died centuries ago.'

'Executed by t-raitors!'

'Even if a descendant could still be found, the royal blood would be somewhat watered down by now, don't you think?'

'The royal b-lood cannot be wa-tered down!'

Ah, thought Lord Rust. So he's that kind. Young Edward thinks the touch of a king can cure scrofula, as if royalty was the equivalent of a sulphur ointment. Young Edward thinks that there is no lake of blood too big to wade through to put a rightful king on a throne, no deed too base in defence of a crown. A romantic, in fact.

Lord Rust was not a romantic. The Rusts had adapted well to Ankh-Morpork's post-monarchy centuries by buying and selling and renting and making contacts and doing what aristocrats have always done, which is trim sails and survive.

'Well, maybe,' he conceded, in the gentle tones of someone trying to talk someone else off a ledge, 'but we must ask ourselves: does Ankh-Morpork, at this point in time, require a king?'

Edward looked at him as though he were mad.

'Need? Need? While our fair city languishes under the heel of the ty-rant?'

'Oh. You mean Vetinari.'

'Can't you see what he's done to this city?'

'He is a very unpleasant, jumped-up little man,' said Lady Selachii, 'but I would not say he actually terrorizes much. Not as such.'

'You have to hand it to him,' said Viscount Skater, 'the city operates. More or less. Fellas and whatnot do things.'

'The streets are safer than they used to be under Mad Lord Snapcase,' said Lady Selachii.

'Sa-fer? Vetinari set up the Thieves' Guild!' shouted Edward.

'Yes, yes, of course, very reprehensible, certainly. On the other hand, a modest annual payment and one walks in safety . . .'

'He always says,' said Lord Rust, 'that if you're going to have crime, it might as well be organized crime.'

'Seems to me,' said Viscount Skater, 'that all the Guild chappies put up with him because anyone else would be worse, yes? We've certainly had some . . . difficult ones. Anyone remember Homicidal Lord Winder?'

'Deranged Lord Harmoni,' said Lord Monflathers.

'Laughing Lord Scapula,' said Lady Selachii. 'A man with a very pointed sense of humour.'

'Mind you, Vetinari . . . there's something not entirely . . .' Lord Rust began.

'I know what you mean,' said Viscount Skater. 'I don't like the way he always knows what you're thinking before you think it.'

'Everyone knows the Assassins have set his fee at a million dollars,' said Lady Selachii. 'That's how much it would cost to have him killed.'

'One can't help feeling,' said Lord Rust, 'that it would cost a lot more than that to make sure he stayed dead.'

'Ye gods! What happened to pride? What happened to honour?'

They perceptibly jumped as the last Lord d'Eath thrust himself out of his chair.

'Will you listen to yourselves? Please? Look at you. What man among you has not seen his family name degraded since the days of the kings? Can't you remember the men your forefathers were?' He strode rapidly around the table, so that they had to turn to watch him. He pointed an angry finger.

'You, Lord Rust! Your ancestor was cr-eated a Baron after single-handedly killing thirty-seven Klatchians while armed with nothing more than a p-in, isn't that so?'

'Yes, but—'

'You, sir . . . Lord Monflathers! The first Duke led six hundred men to a glorious and epic de-feat at the Battle of Quirm! Does that mean n-othing? And you, Lord Venturii, and you, Sir George . . . sitting in Ankh in your old houses with your old names and your old money, while Guilds – Guilds] Ragtags of tradesmen and merchants! – Guilds, I say, have a voice in the r-unning of the city!'

He reached a bookshelf in two strides and threw a huge leather-bound book on the table, where it upset Lord Rust's glass.

'Twurp's P-eerage,' he shouted. 'We all have pages in there! We own it. But this man has you mesmerized! I assure you he is flesh and blood, a mere mortal! No-one dares remove him because they th-ink it will make things a little worse for themselves! Ye g-ods!'

His audience looked glum. It was all true, of course. . . if you put it that way. And it didn't sound any better coming from a wild-eyed, pompous young man.

'Yes, yes, the good old days. Towerin' spires and pennants and chivalry and all that,' said Viscount Skater. 'Ladies in pointy hats. Chappies in armour bashin' one another and whatnot. But, y'know, we have to move with the times—'

'It was a golden age,' said Edward.

My god, thought Lord Rust. He actually does believe it.

'You see, dear boy,' said Lady Selachii, 'a few chance likenesses and a piece of jewellery – that doesn't really add up to much, does it?'

'My nurse told me,' said Viscount Skater, 'that a true king could pull a sword from a stone.'

'Hah, yes, and cure dandruff,' said Lord Rust. 'That's just a legend. That's not real Anyway, I've always been a bit puzzled about that story. What's so hard about pulling a sword out of a stone? The real work's already been done. You ought to make yourself useful and find the man who put the sword in the stone in the first place, eh?'

There was a sort of relieved laughter. That's what Edward remembered. It all ended up in laughter. Not exactly at him, but he was the type of person who always takes laughter personally.

Ten minutes later, Edward d'Eath was alone.

They're being so nice about it. Moving with the times! He'd expected more than that of them. A lot more. He'd dared to hope that they might be inspired by his lead. He'd pictured himself at the head of an army —

Blenkin came in at a respectful shuffle.

'I saw 'em all off, Mr Edward,' he said.

'Thank you, Blenkin. You may clear the table.'

'Yes, Mr Edward.'

'Whatever happened to honour, Blenkin?'

'Dunno, sir. I never took it.'

'They didn't want to listen.'

'No, sir.'

'They didn't want to l-isten.'

Edward sat by the dying fire, with a dog-eared copy of Thighbiter's The Ankh-Morpork Succesfion open on his lap. Dead kings and queens looked at him reproachfully.

And there it might have ended. In fact it did end there, in millions of universes. Edward d'Eath grew older and obsession turned to a sort of bookish insanity of the gloves-with-the-fingers-cut-out and carpet slippers variety, and became an expert on royalty although no-one ever knew this because he seldom left his rooms. Corporal Carrot became Sergeant Carrot and, in the fullness of time, died in uniform aged seventy in an unlikely accident involving an anteater.

In a million universes, Lance-Constables Cuddy and Detritus didn't fall through the hole. In a million universes, Vimes didn't find the pipes. (In one strange but theoretically possible universe the Watch House was redecorated in pastel colours by a freak whirlwind, which also repaired the door latch and did a few other odd jobs around the place.) In a million universes, the Watch failed. -In a million universes, this was a very short book.

Edward dozed off with the book on his knees and had a dream. He dreamed of glorious struggle. Glorious was another important word in his personal vocabulary, like honour.

If traitors and dishonourable men would not see the truth then he, Edward d'Eath, was the finger of Destiny.

The problem with Destiny, of course, is that she is often not careful where she puts her finger.

Captain Sam Vimes, Ankh-Morpork City Guard (Night Watch), sat in the draughty anteroom to the Patrician's audience chamber with his best cloak on and his breastplate polished and his helmet on his knees.

He stared woodenly at the wall.

He ought to be happy, he told himself. And he was. In a way. Definitely. Happy as anything.

He was going to get married in a few days.

Prev page Next page