He stared at the label. It seemed to be Jimkin Bear-hugger’s Old Selected Dragon’s Blood Whiskey. Cheap and powerful, you could light fires with it, you could clean spoons. You didn’t have to drink much of it to be drunk, which was just as well.
It was Nobby who shook him awake with the news that there was a dragon in the city, and also that Sgt Colon had had a nasty turn. Vinies sat and blinked owlishly while the words washed around him. Apparently having a fire-breathing lizard focusing interestedly on one’s nether regions from a distance of a few feet can upset the strongest constitution. An experience like that could leave a lasting mark on a person.
Vimes was still digesting this when Carrot turned up with the Librarian swinging along behind him.
“Did you see it? Did you see it?” he said.
“We all saw it,” said Vimes.
“I know all about it!” said Carrot triumphantly. “Someone’s brought it here with magic. Someone’s stolen a book out of the Library and guess what it’s called?”
“Can’t even begin to,” said Vimes weakly.
“It’s called The Summoning of Dragons!”
“Oook,” confirmed the Librarian.
“Oh? What’s it about?” said Vimes. The Librarian rolled his eyes.
“It’s about how to summon dragons. By magic!”
“And that’s illegal, that is!” said Carrot happily. “Releasing Feral Creatures upon the Streets, contrary to the Wild Animals (Public-”
Vimes groaned. That meant wizards. You got nothing but trouble with wizards.
“I suppose,” he said, “there wouldn’t be another copy of this book around, would there?”
“Oook.” The Librarian shook his head.
“And you wouldn’t happen to know what’s in it?” Vimes sighed.
“What? Oh. Four words,” he said wearily. “First word. Sounds like. Bend. Bough? Sow, cow, how . . . How. Second word. Small word. The, a, to . . . To. Yes, understood, but I meant in any kind of detail? No. I see.”
“What’re we going to do now, sir?” said Carrot anxiously.
“It’s out there,” intoned Nobby. “Gone to ground, like, during the hours of daylight. Coiled up in its secret lair, on top of a great hoard of gold, dreamin’ ancient reptilian dreams fromma dawna time, waitin’ for the secret curtains of the night, when once more it will sally forth-” He hesitated and added sullenly, “What’re you all looking at me like that for?”
“Very poetic,” said Carrot.
“Well, everyone knows the real old dragons used to go to sleep on a hoard of gold,” said Nobby. ‘ ‘Well known folk myth.”
Vimes looked blankly into the immediate future. Vile though Nobby was, he was also a good indication of what was going through the mind of the average citizen. You could use him as a sort of laboratory rat to forecast what was going to happen next.
“I expect you’d be really interested in finding out where that hoard is, wouldn’t you?” said Vimes experimentally.
Nobby looked even more shifty than usual. “Well, Cap’n, I was thinking of having a bit of a look around. You know. When I’m off duty, of course,” he added virtuously.
“Oh, dear,” said Captain Vimes.
He lifted up the empty bottle and, with great care, put it back in the drawer.
The Elucidated Brethren were nervous. A kind of fear crackled from brother to brother. It was the fear of someone who, having cheerfully experimented with pouring the powder and wadding the ball, has found that pulling the trigger had led to a godawful bang and pretty soon someone is bound to come and see who’s making all the noise.
The Supreme Grand Master knew that he had them, though. Sheep and lamb, sheep and lamb. Since they couldn’t do anything much worse than they had already done they might as well press on and damn the world, and pretend they’d wanted it like this all along. Oh, the joy of it …
Only Brother Plasterer was actually happy.
“Let that be a lesson to all oppressive vegetable sellers,” he kept saying.
“Yes, er,” said Brother Doorkeeper. “Only, the thing is, there’s no chance of us sort of accidentally summoning the dragon here, is there?”
“I-that is, we-have it under perfect control,” said the Supreme Grand Master smoothly. “The power is ours. I can assure you.”
The Brothers cheered up a little bit.
“And now,” the Supreme Grand Master continued, “there is the matter of the king.”
The Brothers looked solemn, except for Brother Plasterer.
“Have we found him, then?” he said. "That’s a stroke of luck.”
“You never listen, do you?” snapped Brother Watchtower. “It was all explained last week, we don’t go around finding anyone, we make a king.”
“I thought he was supposed to turn up. ‘Cos of destiny.”
Brother Watchtower sniggered. “We sort of help Destiny along a bit.”
The Supreme Grand Master smiled in the depths of his robe. It was amazing, this mystic business. You tell them a lie, and then when you don’t need it any more you tell them another lie and tell them they’re progressing along the road to wisdom. Then instead of laughing they follow you even more, hoping that at the heart of all the lies they’ll find the truth. And bit by bit they accept the unacceptable. Amazing.
“Bloody hell, that’s clever,” said Brother Doorkeeper. “How do we do that, then?”
“Look, the Supreme Grand Master said what we do, we find some handsome lad who’s good at taking orders, he kills the dragon, and Bob’s your uncle. Simple. Much more intelligent than waitin’ for a so-called real king.”
“But-” Brother Plasterer seemed deep in the toils of cerebration, “if we control the dragon, and we do control the dragon, right? Then we don’t need anyone killing it, we just stop summoning it, and everyone’ll be happy, right?”
“Ho yes,” said Brother Watchtower nastily, “I can just see it, can you? We just trot out, say ‘Hallo, we won’t set fire to your houses any more, aren’t we nice’, do we? The whole point about the thing with the king is that he’ll be a, a sort of-”
“Undeniably potent and romantic symbol of absolute authority,” said the Supreme Grand Master smoothly.
“That’s it,” said Brother Watchtower. “A potent authority.”
“Oh, I see,” said Brother Plasterer. “Right. Okay. That’s what the king’ll be.”
“That’s it,” said Brother Watchtower.
“No-one going to argue with a potent authority, are they?”
“Too right,” said Brother Watchtower.
“Stroke of luck, then, finding the true king right now,” said Brother Plasterer. “Million to one chance, really.”
“We haven’t found the right king. We don’t need the right king,” said the Supreme Grand Master wearily. “For the last time! I’ve just found us a likely lad who looks good in a crown and can take orders and knows how to flourish a sword. Now just listen …”
Flourishing, of course, was important. It didn’t have much to do with wielding. Wielding a sword, the Supreme Grand Master considered, was simply the messy business of dynastic surgery. It was just a matter of thrust and cut. Whereas a king had to flourish one. It had to catch the light in just the right way, leaving watchers in no doubt that here was Destiny’s chosen. He’d taken a long time preparing the sword and shield. It had been very expensive. The shield shone like a dollar in a sweep’s earhole but the sword, the sword was magnificent . . .
It was long and shiny. It looked like something some genius of metalwork-one of those little Zen guys who works only by the light of dawn and can beat a club sandwich of folded steels into something with the cutting edge of a scalpel and the stopping-power of a sex-crazed rhinoceros on bad acid-had made and then retired in tears because he’d never, ever, do anything so good again. There were so many jewels on the hilt it had to be sheathed in velvet, you had to look at it through smoked glass. Just laying a hand on it practically conferred kingship.
As for the lad … he was a distant cousin, keen and vain, and stupid in a passably aristocratic way. Currently he was under guard in a distant farmhouse, with an adequate supply of drink and several young ladies, although what the boy seemed most interested in was mirrors. Probably hero material, the Supreme Grand Master thought glumly.
“I suppose,” said Brother Watchtower, “that he isn’t the real air to the throne?”
“What do you mean?” said the Supreme Grand Master.
“Well, you know how it is. Fate plays funny tricks. Haha. It’d be a laugh, wouldn’t it,” said Brother Watchtower, ‘ ‘if this lad turned out to be the real king. After all this trouble-"
“There is no real king any more!” snapped the Supreme Grand Master. “What do you expect? Some people wandering in the wilderness for hundreds and hundreds of years, patiently handing down a sword and a birthmark? Some sort of magic?” He spat the word. He’d make use of magic, means to an end, end justifies means and so forth, but to go around believing it, believing it had some sort of moral force, like logic, made him wince. “Good grief, man, be logical! Be rational. Even if any of the old royal family survived, the blood line’d be so watered down by now that there must be thousands of people who lay claim to the throne. Even-” he tried to think of the least likely claimant-“even someone like Brother Dunny-kin.” He stared at the assembled Brethren. “Don’t see him here tonight, by the way.”
“Funny thing, that,” said Brother Watchtower thoughtfully. “Didn’t you hear?”
“He got bitten by a crocodile on his way home last night. Poor little bugger.”
“Million to one chance. It’d escaped from a menagerie, or something, and was lying low in his back yard. He went to feel under his doormat for his doorkey and it had him by the funes.” Brother Watchtower fumbled under his robe and produced a grubby brown envelope. “We’re having a whip-round to buy him some grapes and that, I don’t know whether you’d like to, er . . .”
“Put me down for three dollars,” said the Supreme Grand Master.
Brother Watchtower nodded. “Funny thing,” he said, “I already have.”
Just a few more nights, thought the Supreme Grand Master. By tomorrow the people’ll be so desperate, they’d crown even a one-legged troll if he got rid of the dragon. And we’ll have a king, and he’ll have an advisor, a trusted man, of course, and this stupid rabble can go back to the gutter. No more dressing up, no more ritual.
No more summoning the dragon.
I can give it up, he thought. I can give it up any time I like.
The streets outside the Patrician’s palace were thronged. There was a manic air of carnival. Vimes ran a practised eye over the assortment before him. It was the usual Ankh-Morpork mob in times of crisis; half of them were here to complain, a quarter of them were here to watch the other half, and the remainder were here to rob, importune or sell hot-dogs to the rest. There were a few new faces, though. There were a number of grim men with big swords slung over their shoulders and whips slung on their belts, striding through the crowds.
“News spreads quick, don’t it,” observed a familiar voice by his ear. “Morning, Captain.”