20,146
26.12.2018

PS I hope Minty is keeping well.

He folded the paper carefully and shoved it into the envelope.

“Sun’s going down,” said Sergeant Colon.

Carrot looked up from his sealing wax.

“That means it will be night soon,” Colon went on, accurately.

“Yes, Sergeant.”

Colon ran a finger round his collar. His skin was impressively pink, the result of a morning’s scrubbing, but people were still staying at a respectful distance.

Some people are born to command. Some people achieve command. And others have command thrust upon them, and the sergeant was now included in this category and wasn’t very happy about it.

Any minute now, he knew, he was going to have to say that it was time they went out on patrol. He didn’t want to go out on patrol. He wanted to find a nice sub-basement somewhere. But nobblyess obligay-if he was in charge, he had to do it.

It wasn’t the loneliness of command that was bothering him. It was the being-fried-alive of command that was giving him problems.

He was also pretty sure that unless they came up with something about this dragon very soon then the Patrician was going to be unhappy. And when the Patrician was unhappy, he became very democratic. He found intricate and painful ways of spreading that un-happiness as far as possible. Responsibility, the sergeant thought, was a terrible thing. So was being horribly tortured. As far as he could see, the two facts were rapidly heading towards one another.

And thus he was terribly relieved when a small coach pulled up outside the Yard. It was very old, and battered. There was a faded coat of arms on the door. Painted on the back, and rather newer, was the little message: Whinny If You Love Dragons.

Out of it, wincing as he got down, stepped Captain Vimes. Following him was the woman known to the sergeant as Mad Sybil Ramkin. And finally, hopping down obediently on the end of its lead, was a small-

The sergeant was too nervous to take account of actual size.

“Well, I’ll be mogadored! They’ve only gone and caught it!”

Nobby looked up from the table in the corner where he was continually failing to learn that it is almost impossible to play a game of skill and bluff against an opponent who smiles all the time. The Librarian took advantage of the diversion to help himself to a couple of cards off the bottom of the pack.

“Don’t be daft. That’s just a swamp dragon,” said Nobby. “She’s all right, is Lady Sybil. A real lady.”

The other two guards turned and stared at him. This was Nobby talking.

“You two can bloody well stop that,” he said. “Why shouldn’t I know a lady when I sees one? She give me a cup of tea in a cup fin as paper and a silver spoon in it,” he said, speaking as one who had peeped over the plateau of social distinction. “And I give it back to her, so you can stop looking at me like that!”

“What is it you actually do on your evenings off?” said Colon.

“No business of yourn.”

“Did you really give the spoon back?” said Carrot.

“Yes I bloody well did!” said Nobby hotly.

“Attention, lads,” said the sergeant, flooded with relief.

The other two entered the room. Vimes gave his men his usual look of resigned dismay. “My squad,” he mumbled.

“Fine body of men,” said Lady Ramkin. “The good old rank and file, eh?”

“The rank, anyway,” said Vimes.

Lady Ramkin beamed encouragingly. This led to a strange shuffling among the men. Sergeant Colon, by dint of some effort, managed to make his chest stick out more than his stomach. Carrot straightened up from his habitual stoop. Nobby vibrated with soldierly bearing, hands thrust straight down by his sides, thumbs pointing sharply forward, pigeon chest inflated so much that his feet were in danger of leaving the ground.

‘ ‘I always think we can all sleep safer in my bed knowing that these brave men are watching over us,“ said Lady Ramkin, walking sedately along the rank, like a treasure galleon running ahead of a mild breeze. ”And who is this?"

It is difficult for an orangutan to stand to attention. Its body can master the general idea, but its skin can’t. The Librarian was doing his best, however, standing in a sort of respectful heap at the end of the line and maintaining the kind of complex salute you can only achieve with a four-foot arm.

“ ‘E’s plain clothes, ma’am,” said Nobby smartly. “Special Ape Services.”

“Very enterprising. Very enterprising indeed,” said Lady Ramkin. “How long have you been an ape, my man?”

“Oook.”

“Well done.” She turned to Vimes, who was definitely looking incredulous.

“A credit to you,” she said. “A fine body of men-”

“Oook.”

“-anthropoids,” corrected Lady Ramkin, with barely a break in the flow.

For a moment the rank felt as though they had just returned from single-handedly conquering a distant province. They felt, in fact, tremendously bucked-up, which was how Lady Ramkin would almost certainly have put it and which was definitely several letters of the alphabet away from how they normally felt. Even the Librarian felt favoured, and for once had let the phrase ‘my man’ pass without comment.

A trickling noise and a strong chemical smell prompted them to look around.

Goodboy Bindle Featherstone was squatting with an air of sheepish innocence alongside what was not so much a stain on the carpet as a hole in the floor. A few wisps of smoke were curling up from the edges.

Lady Ramkin sighed.

“Don’t you worry, ma’am,” volunteered Nobby cheerfully. “Soon have that cleaned up.”

“I’m afraid they’re often like that when they’re excited,” she said.

“Fine specimen you got there, ma’am,” Nobby went on, revelling in the new-found experience of social intercourse.

“It’s not mine,” she said. “It belongs to the captain now. Or all of you, perhaps. A sort of mascot. His name is Goodboy Bindle Featherstone.”

Goodboy Bindle Featherstone bore up stoically under the weight of the name, and sniffed a table leg.

“He looks more like my brother Errol,” said Nobby, playing the cheeky chirpy lovable city sparrow card for all it was worth. “Got the same pointed nose, excuse me for saying so, milady.”

Vimes looked at the creature, which was investigating its new environment, and knew that it was now, irrevocably, an Errol. The little dragon took an experimental bite out of the table, chewed it for a few seconds, spat it out, curled up and went to sleep.

“He ain’t going to set fire to anything, is he?” said the sergeant anxiously.

“I don’t think so. He doesn’t seem to have worked out what his flame ducts are for yet,” said Lady Ramkin.

“You can’t teach him anything about relaxing, though,” said Vimes. “Anyway, men …”

“Oook.”

“I wasn’t talking to you, sir. What’s this doing here?”

“Er,” said Sergeant Colon hurriedly, “I, er . . . with you being away and all, and us likely to be short-handed . . . Carrot here says it’s all according to the law and that … I swore him in, sir. The ape, sir.”

“Swore him in what, Sergeant?” said Vimes.

“As Special Constable, sir,” said Colon, blushing. “You know, sir. Sort of citizen’s Watch.”

Vimes threw up his hands. “Special? Bloody ‘ unique!”

The Librarian gave Vimes a big smile.

“Just temporarily, sir. For the duration, like,” said Colon pleadingly. “We could do with the help, sir, and . . . well, he’s the only one who seems to like us . . .”

“I think it’s a frightfully good idea,” said Lady Ramkin. “Well done, that ape.”

Vimes shrugged. The world was mad enough already, what could make it worse?

“Okay,” he said. “Okay! I give in. Fine! Give him a badge, although I’m damned if I know where he’ll wear it! Fine! Yes! Why not?”

“You all right, Captain?” said Colon, all concern.

“Fine! Fine! Welcome to the new Watch!” snapped Vimes, striding vaguely around the room. “Great! After all, we pay peanuts, don’t we, so we might as well employ mon-”

The sergeant’s hand slapped respectfully across Vimes’s mouth.

“Er, just one thing, Captain,” said Colon urgently, to Vimes’s astonished eyes. “You don’t use the ‘M’ word. Gets right up his nose, sir. He can’t help it, he loses all self-control. Like a red rag to a wossname, sir. ‘Ape’ is all right, sir, but not the ‘M’ word. Because, sir, when he gets angry he doesn’t just go and sulk, sir, if you get my drift. He’s no trouble at all apart from that, sir. All right? Just don’t say monkey. Ohshit.”

The Brethren were nervous.

He’d heard them talking. Things were moving too fast for them. He thought he’d led them into the conspiracy a bit at a time, never giving them more truth than their little brains could cope with, but he’d still overestimated them. A firm hand was needed. Firm but fair.

“Brothers,” said the Supreme Grand Master, “are the Cuffs of Veracity duly enhanced?”

“What?” said Brother Watchtower vaguely. “Oh. The Cuffs. Yeah. Enhanced. Right.”

“And the Martlets of Beckoning, are they fittingly divested?”

Brother Plasterer gave a guilty start. “Me? What? Oh. Fine, no problem. Divested. Yes.”

The Supreme Grand Master paused.

“Brothers,” he said softly. “We are so near. Just once more. Just a few hours. Once more and the world is ours. Do you understand, Brothers?”

Brother Plasterer shuffled a foot.

“Well,” he said. “I mean, of course. Yes. No fears about that. Behind you one hundred and ten percent-”

He’s going to say only, thought the Supreme Grand Master.

“-only-”

Ah.

“-we, that is, all of us, we’ve been . . . odd, really, you feel so different, don’t you, after summoning the dragon, sort of-”

“Cleaned out,” said Brother Plasterer helpfully.

“-yes, like it’s sort of-” Brother Watchtower struggled with the serpents of self-expression-“taking something out of you …”

“Sucked dry,” said Brother Plasterer.

“Yes, like he said, and we … well, it’s maybe it’s a bit risky …”

“Like stuff’s been dragged from your actual living brain by eldritch creatures from the Beyond,” said Brother Plasterer.

“I’d have said more like a bit of a sick headache, myself,” said Brother Watchtower helplessly. “And we was wondering, you know, about all this stuff about cosmic balance and that, because, well, look what happened to poor old Dunnykin. Could be a bit of a judgement. Er.”

“It was just a maddened crocodile hidden in a flower bed,” said the Supreme Grand Master. “It could have happened to anyone. I understand your feelings, however.”

“You do?” said Brother Watchtower.

“Oh, yes. They’re only natural. All the greatest wizards feel a little ill-at-ease before undertaking a great work such as this.” The Brethren preened themselves. Great wizards. That’s us. Yeah. “But in a few hours it’ll be over, and I am sure that the king will reward you handsomely. The future will be glorious.”