20,255
26.12.2018

Carrot stood in the middle of the floor. His rusty chain mail was torn, his helmet was missing, he was swaying a little from side to side and one eye was already starting to swell, but he recognised the captain, dropped the feebly-protesting customer he was holding, and threw a salute.

“Beg to report thirty-one offences of Making an Affray, sir, and fifty-six cases of Riotous Behaviour, forty-one offences of Obstructing an Officer of the Watch in the Execution of his Duty, thirteen offences of Assault with a Deadly Weapon, six cases of Malicious Lingering, and-and-Corporal Nobby hasn’t even shown me one rope yet-”

He fell backwards, breaking a table.

Captain Vimes coughed. He wasn’t at all sure what you were supposed to do next. As far as he knew, the Watch had never been in this position before.

‘ ‘I think you should get him a drink, Sergeant,” he said.

“Yessir.”

“And get me one, too.”

“Yessir.”

“Have one yourself, why don’t you.”

“Yessir.”

“And you, Corporal, will you please-what are you doing?”

“Searchingthebodiesir,” said Nobby quickly, straightening up. “For incriminating evidence, and that.”

‘ ‘In their money pouches?”

Nobby thrust his hands behind his back. “You never know, sir,” he said.

The sergeant had located a miraculously unbroken bottle of spirits in the wreckage and forced a lot of its contents between Carrot’s lips.

“What we going to do with all this lot, Captain?” he said over his shoulder.

“I haven’t the faintest idea,” said Vimes, sitting down. The Watch jail was just about big enough for six very small people, which were usually the only sort to be put in it. Whereas these-

He looked around him desperately. There was Nork the Impaler, lying under a table and making bubbling noises. There was Big Henri. There was Grabber Sim-mons, one of the most feared bar-room fighters in the city. All in all, there were a lot of people it wouldn’t pay to be near when they woke up.

“We could cut their froats, sir,” said Nobby, veteran of a score of residual battlefields. He had found an unconscious fighter who was about the right size and was speculatively removing his boots, which looked quite new and about the right size.

“That would be entirely wrong,” said Vimes. He wasn’t sure how you actually went about cutting a throat. It had never hitherto been an option.

“No,” he said, “I think perhaps we’ll let them off with a caution.”

There was a groan from under the bench.

“Besides,” he went on quickly, “we should get our fallen comrade to a place of safety as soon as possible.”

“Good point,” said the sergeant. He took a swig of the spirits, for the sake of his nerves.

The two of them managed to sling Carrot between them and guide his wobbling legs up the steps. Vimes, collapsing under the weight, looked around for Nobby.

“Corporal Nobbs,” he rasped, “why are you kicking people when they’re down?”

“Safest way, sir,” said Nobby.

Nobby had long ago been told about fighting fair and not striking a fallen opponent, and had then given some creative thought to how these rules applied to someone four feet tall with the muscle tone of an elastic band.

“Well, stop it. I want you to caution the felons,” said the captain.

“How, sir?”

“Well, you-” Captain Vimes stopped. He was blowed if he knew. He’d never done it.

“Just do it,” he snapped. "Surely I don’t have to tell you everything?”

Nobby was left alone at the top of the stairs. A general muttering and groaning from the floor indicated that people were waking up. Nobby thought quickly. He shook an admonitory cheese-straw of a finger.

“Let that be a lesson to you,” he said. "Don’t do it again.”

And ran for it.

Up in the darkness of the rafters the Librarian scratched himself reflectively. Life was certainly full of surprises. He was going to watch developments with interest. He shelled a thoughtful peanut with his feet, and swung away into the darkness.

The Supreme Grand Master raised his hands.

“Are the Thuribles of Destiny ritually chastised, that Evil and Loose Thinking may be banished from this Sanctified Circle?”

“Yep.”

The Supreme Grand Master lowered his hands.

“Yep?” he said.

“Yep,” said Brother Dunnykin happily. “Done it myself.”

“You are supposed to say ‘Yea, O Supreme One’,” said the Supreme Grand Master. “Honestly, I’ve told you enough times, if you’re not all going to enter into the spirit of the thing-”

“Yes, you listen to what the Supreme Grand Master tells you,” said Brother Watchtower, glaring at the errant Brother.

“I spent hours chastising them thuribles,” muttered Brother Dunnykin.

“Carry on, O Supreme Grand Master,” said Brother Watchtower.

“Very well, then,” said the Grand Master. “Tonight we’ll try another experimental summoning. I trust you have obtained suitable raw material, brothers?”

"-scrubbed and scrubbed, not that you get any thanks-”

“All sorted out, Supreme Grand Master,” said Brother Watchtower.

It was, the Grand Master conceded, a slightly better collection. The Brothers had certainly been busy. Pride of place was given to an illuminated tavern sign whose removal, the Grand Master thought, should have merited some sort of civic aware. At the moment the E was a ghastly pink and flashed on and off at random.

“I got that,” said Brother Watchtower proudly. “They thought I was mending it or something, but I took my screwdriver and I-”

“Yes, well done,” said the Supreme Grand Master. “Shows initiative.”

“Thank you, Supreme Grand Master,” beamed Brother Watchtower.

”-knuckles rubbed raw, all red and cracked. Never even got my three dollars back, either, no-one as much as says-”

“And now,” said the Supreme Grand Master, taking up the book, “we will begin to commence. Shut up, Brother Dunnykin.”

Every town in the multiverse has a part that is something like Ankh-Morpork’s Shades. It’s usually the oldest part, its lanes faithfully following the original tracks of medieval cows going down to the river, and they have names like the Shambles, the Rookery, Sniggs Alley . . .

Most of Ankh-Morpork is like that in any case. But the Shades was even more so, a sort of black hole of bred-in-the-brickwork lawlessness. Put it like this: even the criminals were afraid to walk the streets. The Watch didn’t set foot in it.

They were accidentally setting foot in it now. Not very reliably. It had been a trying night, and they had been steadying their nerves. They were now so steady that all four were relying on the other three to keep them upright and steer.

Captain Vimes passed the bottle back to the sergeant.

“Shame on, on, on,” he thought for a bit, “you,” he said. “Drun’ in fron’ of a super, super, superererer ofisiler.”

The sergeant tried to speak, but could only come out with a series of esses.

“Put yoursel’ onna charge,” said Captain Vimes, rebounding off a wall. He glared at the brickwork. “This wall assaulted me,” he declared. “Hah! Think you’re tough, eh! Well, ‘m a ofisler of, of, of the Law, I’llhaveyouknow, and we don’ take any, any, any.”

He blinked slowly, once or twice.

“What’s it we don’ take any of, Sar’nt?” he said.

“Chances, sir?” said Colon.

“No, no, no. S’other stuff. Never mind. Anyway, we don’ take any of, of, of it from anyone.” Vague visions were trotting through his mind, of a room full of criminal types, people that had jeered at him, people whose very existence had offended and taunted him for years, lying around and groaning. He was a little unclear how it had happened, but some almost forgotten part of him, some much younger Vimes with a bright shining breastplate and big hopes, a Vimes he thought the alcohol had long ago drowned, was suddenly restless.

“Shallie, shallie, shallie tell you something, Sarn’t?” he said.

"Sir?” The four of them bounced gently off another wall and began another slow crabwise waltz across the alley.

“This city. This city. This city, Sar’nt. This city is a, is a, is a Woman, Sarn’t. So t’is. A Woman, Sarn’t. Ancient raddled old beauty, Sarn’t. Butifyoufallinlove-withher, then, then, then shekicksyouinnateeth-”

“ ‘s woman?” said Colon.

He screwed up his sweating face with the effort of thought.

“ ‘s eight miles wide, sir. ‘ ‘s gotta river in it. Lots of, of houses and stuff, sir,” he reasoned.

“Ah. Ah. Ah.” Vimes waggled an unsteady finger at him. “Never, never, never said it wasa small woman, did I. Be fair.” He waved the bottle. Another random thought exploded in the froth of his mind.

“We showed ’em, anyway,” he said excitedly, as the four of them began an oblique shuffle back to the opposite wall. “Showed them, dint we? Taught thema forget they won’t lesson inna hurry, eh?”

“S’right,” said the sergeant, but not very enthusiastically. He was still wondering about his superior officer’s sex life.

But Vimes was in the kind of mood that didn’t need encouragement.

“Hah!” he shouted, at the dark alleyways. “Don’ like it, eh? Taste of your, your, your own medicine thingy. Well, now you can bootle in your trems!” He threw the empty bottle into the air.

“Two o’clock!” he yelled. “And all’s weeeellll!”

Which was astonishing news to the various shadowy figures who had been silently shadowing the four of them for some time. Only sheer puzzlement had prevented them making their attentions sharp and plain. These people are clearly guards, they were thinking, they’ve got the right helmets and everything, and yet here they are in the Shades. So they were being watched with the fascination that a pack of wolves might focus on a handful of sheep who had not only trotted into the clearing, but were making playful butts and baa-ing noises; the outcome was, of course, going to be mutton but in the meantime inquisitiveness gave a stay of execution.

Carrot raised his muzzy head.

“Where’re we?” he groaned.

“On our way home,” said the sergeant. He looked up at the pitted, worm-eaten and knife-scored sign above them. “We’re jus’ goin’ down, goin’ down, goin’ down-” he squinted-“Sweetheart Lane.”

“Sweetheart Lane s’not on the way home,” slurred Nobby. “We wouldn’t wanta go down Sweetheart Lane, it’s in the Shades. Catch us goin’ down Sweetheart Lane-”

There was a crowded moment in which realisation did the icy work of a good night’s sleep and several pints of black coffee. The three of them, by unspoken agreement, clustered up towards Carrot.

“What we gonna do, Captain?” said Colon.

“Er. We could call for help,” said the captain uncertainly.

“What, here?”

“You’ve got a point.”

“I reckon we must of turned left out of Silver Street instead of right,” quavered Nobby.

“Well, that’s one mistake we won’t make again in a hurry,” said the captain. Then he wished he hadn’t.