Men at Arms Page 3

He was going to stop being a guard.

He was going to be a gentleman of leisure.

He took off his copper badge and buffed it absent-mindedly on the edge of his cloak. Then he held it up so that the light glinted off the patina'd surface. AMCW No.177. He sometimes wondered how many other guards had had the badge before him.

Well, now someone was going to have it after him.

This is Ankh-Morpork, Citie of One Thousand Surprises (according to the Guild of Merchants' guidebook). What more need be said? A sprawling place, home to a million people, greatest of cities on the Discworld, located on either side of the river Ankh, a waterway so muddy that it looks as if it is flowing upside down.

And visitors say: how does such a big city exist? What keeps it going? Since it's got a river you can chew, where does the drinking water come from? What is, in fact, the basis of its civic economy? How come it, against all probability, works?

Actually, visitors don't often say this. They usually say things like 'Which way to the, you know, the . . . er . . . you know, the young ladies, right?'

But if they started thinking with their brains for a little while, that's what they'd be thinking.

The Patrician of Ankh-Morpork sat back on his austere chair with the sudden bright smile of a very busy person at the end of a crowded day who's suddenly found in his schedule a reminder saying: 7.00-7.05, Be Cheerful and Relaxed and a People Person.

'Well, of course I was very saddened to receive your letter, captain . . .'

'Yes, sir,' said Vimes, still as wooden as a furniture warehouse.

'Please sit down, captain.'

'Yes, sir.' Vimes remained standing. It was a matter of pride.

'But of course I quite understand. The Ramkin country estates are very extensive, I believe. I'm sure Lady Ramkin will appreciate your strong right hand.'

'Sir?' Captain Vimes, while in the presence of the ruler of the city, always concentrated his gaze on a point one foot above and six inches to the left of the man's head.

'And of course you will be quite a rich man, captain.'

'Yes, sir.'

'I hope you have thought about that. You will have new responsibilities:'

'Yes, sir.'

It dawned on the Patrician that he was working on both ends of this conversation. He shuffled through the papers on his desk.

'And of course I shall have to promote a new chief officer for the Night Watch,' said the Patrician. 'Have you any suggestions, captain?'

Vimes appeared to descend from whatever cloud his mind had been occupying. This was guard work.

'Well, not Fred Colon . . . He's one of Nature's sergeants . . .'

Sergeant Colon, Ankh-Morpork City Guard (Night Watch) surveyed the bright faces of the new recruits.

He sighed. He remembered his first day. Old Sergeant Wimbler. What a tartar! Tongue like a whiplash! If the old boy had lived to see this . . .

What was it called? Oh, yeah. Affirmative action hirin' procedure, or something. Silicon Anti-Defamation League had been going on at the Patrician, and now—

'Try it one more time, Lance-Constable Detritus,' he said. 'The trick is, you stops your hand just above your ear. Now, just get up off the floor and try salutin' one more time. Now, then . . . Lance-Constable Cuddy?'



'In front of you, sergeant.'

Colon looked down and took a step back. The swelling curve of his more than adequate stomach moved aside to reveal the upturned face of Lance-Constable Cuddy, with its helpful intelligent expression and one glass eye.

'Oh. Right.'

'I'm taller than I look.'

Oh, gods, thought Sergeant Colon wearily. Add 'em up and divide by two and you've got two normal men, except normal men don't join the Guard. A troll and a dwarf. And that ain't the worst of it—

Vimes drummed his fingers on the desk.

'Not Colon, then,' he said. 'He's not as young as he was. Time he stayed in the Watch House, keeping up on the paperwork. Besides, he's got a lot on his plate.'

'Sergeant Colon has always had a lot on his plate, I should say,' said the Patrician.

'With the new recruits, I mean,' said Vimes, meaningfully. 'You remember, sir?'

The ones you told me I had to have? he added in the privacy of his head. They weren't to go in the Day Watch, of course. And those bastards in the Palace Guard wouldn't take them, either. Oh, no. Put 'em in the Night Watch, because it's a joke anyway and no-one'll really see 'em. No-one important, anyway.

Vimes had only given in because he knew it wouldn't be his problem for long.

It wasn't as if he was speciesist, he told himself. But the Watch was a job for men.

'How about Corporal Nobbs?' said the Patrician.


They shared a mental picture of Corporal Nobbs.



'Then of course there is,' the Patrician smiled, 'Corporal Carrot. A fine young man. Already making a name for himself, I gather.'

'That's . . . true,' said Vimes.

'A further promotion opportunity, perhaps? I would value your advice.'

Vimes formed a mental picture of Corporal Carrot—

'This,' said Corporal Carrot, 'is the Hubwards Gate. To the whole city. Which is what we guard.'

'What from?' said Lance-Constable Angua, the last of the new recruits.

'Oh, you know. Barbarian hordes, warring tribesmen, bandit armies . . . that sort of thing.'

'What? Just us?'

'Us? Oh, no!' Carrot laughed. 'That'd be silly, wouldn't it? No, if you see anything like that, you just ring your bell as hard as you like.'

'What happens then?'

'Sergeant Colon and Nobby and the rest of 'em will come running along just as soon as they can.'

Lance-Constable Angua scanned the hazy horizon.

She smiled.

Carrot blushed.

Constable Angua had mastered saluting first go. She wouldn't have a full uniform yet, not until someone had taken a, well, let's face it, a breastplate along to old Remitt the armourer and told him to beat it out really well here and here, and no helmet in the world would cover all that mass of ash-blond hair but, it occurred to Carrot, Constable Angua wouldn't need any of that stuff really. People would be queuing up to get arrested.

'So what do we do now?' she said.

'Proceed back tp the Watch House, I suppose,' said Carrot. 'Sergeant Colon'll be reading out the evening report, I expect.'

She'd mastered 'proceeding', too. It's a special walk devised by beat officers throughout the multiverse – a gentle lifting of the instep, a careful swing of the leg, a walking pace that can be kept up hour after hour, street after street. Lance-Constable Detritus wasn't going to be ready to learn 'proceeding' for some time, or at least until he stopped knocking himself out every time he saluted.

'Sergeant Colon,' said Angua. 'He was the fat one, yes?'

'That's right.'

'Why has he got a pet monkey?'

'Ah,' said Carrot. 'I think it is Corporal Nobbs to whom you refer . . .'

'It's human? He's got a face like a join-the-dots puzzle!'

'He does have a very good collection of boils, poor man. He does tricks with them. Just never get between him and a mirror.'

Not many people were on the streets. It was too hot, even for an Ankh-Morpork summer. Heat radiated from every surface. The river slunk sullenly in the bottom of its bed, like a student around 11 a.m. People with no pressing business out of doors lurked in cellars and only came out at night.

Carrot moved through the baking streets with a proprietorial air and a slight patina of honest sweat, occasionally exchanging a greeting. Everyone knew Carrot. He was easily recognizable. No-one else was about two metres tall with flame-red hair. Besides, he walked as if he owned the city.

'Who was that man with the granite face I saw in the Watch House?' said Angua, as they proceeded along Broad Way.

'That was Detritus the troll,' said Carrot. 'He used to be a bit of a criminal, but now he's courting Ruby she says he's got to—'

'No, that man,' said Angua, learning as had so many others that Carrot tended to have a bit of trouble with metaphors. 'Face like thu—face like someone very disgruntled.'

'Oh, that was Captain Vimes. But he's never been gruntled, I think. He's retiring at the end of the week, and getting married.'

'Doesn't look very happy about it,' said Angua.

'Couldn't say.'

'I don't think he likes the new recruits.'

The other thing about Constable Carrot was that he was incapable of lying.

'Well, he doesn't like trolls much,' he said. 'We couldn't get a word out of him all day when he heard we had to advertise for a troll recruit. And then we had to have a dwarf, otherwise they'd be trouble. I'm a dwarf, too, but the dwarfs here don't believe it.'

'You don't say?' said Angua, looking up at him.

'My mother had me by adoption.'

'Oh. Yes, but I'm not a troll or a dwarf,' said Angua sweetly.

'No, but you're a w—'

Angua stopped. 'That's it, is it? Good grief! This is the Century of the Fruitbat, you know. Ye gods, does he really think like that?'

'He's a bit set in his ways.'

'Congealed, I should think.'

'The Patrician said we had to have a bit of representation from the minority groups,' said Carrot.

'Minority groups!'

'Sorry. Anyway, he's only got a few more days—'

There was a splintering noise across the street. They turned as a figure sprinted out of a tavern and hared away up the street, closely followed – at least for a few steps – by a fat man in an apron.

'Stop! Stop! Unlicensed thief!'

'Ah,' said Carrot. He crossed the road, with Angua padding along behind him, as the fat man slowed to a waddle.

' 'Morning, Mr Flannel,' he said. 'Bit of trouble?'

'He took seven dollars and I never saw no Thief Licence!' said Mr Flannel. 'What you going to do about it? I pay my taxes!'

'We shall be hotly in pursuit any moment,' said Carrot calmly, taking out his notebook. 'Seven dollars, was it?'

'At least fourteen.'

Mr Flannel looked Angua up and down. Men seldom missed the opportunity.

'Why's she got a helmet on?' he said.

'She's a new recruit, Mr Flannel.'

Angua gave Mr Flannel a smile. He stepped back.

'But she's a—'

'Got to move with the times, Mr Flannel,' said Carrot, putting his notebook away.

Mr Flannel drew his mind back to business.

'In the meantime, there's eighteen dollars of mine that I won't see again,' he said sharply.

'Oh, nil desperandum, Mr Flannel, nil desperandum,' said Carrot cheerfully. 'Come, Constable Angua. Let us proceed upon our inquiries.'

He proceeded off, with Flannel staring at them with his mouth open.

'Don't forget my twenty-five dollars,' he shouted.

'Aren't you going to chase the man?' said Angua, running to keep up.

'No point,' said Carrot, stepping sideways into an alley that was so narrow as to be barely visible. He strolled between the damp, moss-grown walls, in deep shadow.

'Interesting thing,' he said. 'I bet there's not many people know that you can get to Zephire Street from Broad Way. You ask anyone. They'll say you can't get out of the other end of Shirt Alley. But you can because, all you do, you go up Mormius Street, and then you can squeeze between these bollards here into Borborygmic Lane – good, aren't they, very good iron – and here we are in Whilom Alley—'

He wandered to the end of the alley and stood listening for a while.

'What are we waiting for?' said Angua.

There was the sound of running feet. Carrot leaned against the wall, and stuck out one arm into Zephire Street. There was a thud. Carrot's arm didn't move an inch. It must have been like running into a girder.

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