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26.12.2018

“I-” Carrot began, and then remembered that, yes, one should tell the truth, even to odd people like Nobby who didn’t seem to know what it was. And the truth was that he was always getting Minty in trouble, although exactly how and why was a bit of a mystery. Just about every time he left after paying calls on her at the Rocksmacker cave, he could hear her father and mother shouting at her. They were always very polite to him, but somehow merely being seen with him was enough to get Minty into trouble.

“Yes, ” he said.

“Ah. Often the case, ” said Nobby wisely.

“All the time, ” said Carrot. “Just about every night, really. ”

“Blimey, ” said Nobby, impressed. He looked down at the Protective. “Is that why they make you wear that, then?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, don’t worry about it, ” said Nobby. “Everyone’s got their little secret. Or big secret, as it might be. Even the captain. He’s only with us because he was Brung Low by a Woman. That’s what the sergeant says. Brung low. ”

“Goodness, ” said Carrot. It sounded painful.

“But I reckon it’s ‘cos he speaks his mind. Spoke it once too often to the Patrician, I heard. Said the Thieves’ Guild was nothing but a pack of thieves, or something. That’s why he’s with us. Dunno, really. ” He looked speculatively at the pavement and then said: “So where’re you staying, lad?”

“There’s a lady called Mrs Palm-” Carrot began.

Nobby choked on some smoke that went the wrong way.

“In the Shades?” he wheezed. “You’re staying there?”

“Oh, yes. ”

“Every night?”

“Well, every day, really. Yes. ”

“And you’ve come here to have a man made of you?”

“Yes!”

“I don’t think I should like to live where you come from, ” said Nobby.

“Look, ” said Carrot, thoroughly lost, “I came because Mr Varneshi said it was the finest job in the world, upholding the law and everything. That’s right, isn’t it?”

“Well, er, ” said Nobby. "As to that… I mean, upholding the Law… I mean, once, yes, before we had all the Guilds and stuff… the law, sort of thing, ain’t really, I mean, these days, everything’s more… oh, I dunno. Basically you just ring your bell and keep your head down. ”

Nobby sighed. Then he grunted, snatched his hourglass from his belt, and peered in at the rapidly-draining sand grains. He put it back, pulled the leather muffler off his bell’s clapper, and shook it once or twice, not very loudly.

“Twelve of the clock, ” he muttered, “and all’s well. ”

“And that’s it, is it?” said Carrot, as the tiny echoes died away.

“More or less. More or less. ” Nobby took a quick drag on his dog-end.

“Just that? No moonlight chases across rooftops? No swinging on chandeliers? Nothing like that?” said Carrot.

“Shouldn’t think so, ” said Nobby fervently. “I never done anything like that. No-one ever said anything to me about that. ” He snatched a puff on the cigarette. “A man could catch his death of cold, chasing around on rooftops. I reckon I’ll stick to the bell, if it’s all the same to you. ”

“Can I have a go?” said Carrot.

Nobby was feeling unbalanced. It can be the only reason why he made the mistake of wordlessly handing Carrot the bell.

Carrot examined it for a few seconds. Then he waved it vigorously over his head.

“Twelve o’clock!” he bellowed. “And all’s weeeeelllll!”

The echoes bounced back and forth across the street and finally were overwhelmed by a horrible, thick silence. Several dogs barked somewhere in the night. A baby started crying.

“Ssshh!” hissed Nobby.

“Well, it is all well, isn’t it?” said Carrot.

“It won’t be if you keep on ringing that bloody bell! Give it here. ”

“I don’t understand!” said Carrot. “Look, I’ve got this book Mr Varneshi gave me-” He fumbled for the Laws and Ordinances.

Nobby glanced at them, and shrugged. “Never heard of ’em, ” he said. “Now just shut up your row. You don’t want to go making a din like that. You could attract all sorts. Come on, this way. ”

He grabbed Carrot’s arm and bustled him along the street.

“What sorts?” protested Carrot as he was pushed determinedly forward.

“Bad sorts, ” muttered Nobby.

“But we’re the Watch!”

“Damn right! And we don’t want to go tangling with people like that! Remember what happened to Gas-kin!”

“I don’t remember what happened to Gaskin!” said Carrot, totally bewildered. “Who’s Gaskin?”

“Before your time, ” mumbled Nobby. He deflated a bit. ‘ ‘Poor bugger. Could of happened to any of us. “ He looked up and glared at Carrot. ”Now stop all this, you hear? It’s getting on my nerves. Moonlight bloody chases, my bum!"

He stalked along the street. Nobby’s normal method of locomotion was a kind of sidle, and the combination of stalking and sidling at the same time created a strange effect, like a crab limping.

“But, but, ” said Carrot, “in this book it says-”

“I don’t want to know from no book, ” growled Nobby.

Carrot looked utterly crestfallen.

“But it’s the Law-” he began.

He was nearly terminally interrupted by an axe that whirred out of a low doorway beside him and bounced off the opposite wall. It was followed by sounds of splintering timber and breaking glass.

“Hey, Nobby!” said Carrot urgently, “There’s a fight going on!”

Nobby glanced at the doorway. “O’course there is, ” he said. “It’s a dwarf bar. Worst kind. You keep out of there, kid. Them little buggers like to trip you up and then kick twelve kinds of shit out of you. You come along o’Nobby and he’ll-”

He grabbed Carrot’s treetrunk arm. It was like trying to tow a building.

Carrot had gone pale.

“Dwarfs drinking? And fighting?” he said.

“You bet, ” said Nobby. “All the time. And they use the kind of language I wouldn’t even use to my own dear mother. You don’t want to mix it with them, they’re a poisonous bunch of-don’t go in there!”

No-one knows why dwarfs, who at home in the mountains lead quiet, orderly lives, forget it all when they move to the big city. Something comes over even the most blameless iron-ore miner and prompts him to wear chain-mail all the time, carry an axe, change his name to something like Grabthroat Shinkicker and drink himself into surly oblivion.

It’s probably because they do live such quiet and orderly lives back home. After all, probably the first thing a young dwarf wants to do when he hits the big city after seventy years of working for his father at the bottom of a pit is have a big drink and then hit someone.

The fight was one of those enjoyable dwarfish fights with about a hundred participants and one hundred and fifty alliances. The screams, oaths and the ringing of axes on iron helmets mingled with the sounds of a drunken group by the fireplace who-another dwarfish custom-were singing about gold.

Nobby bumped into the back of Carrot, who was watching the scene with horror.

“Look, it’s like this every night in here, ” said Nobby. “Don’t interfere, that’s what the sergeant says. It’s their ethnic folkways, or somethin’. You don’t go messin’ with ethnic folkways. ”

“But, but, ” Carrot stuttered, “these are my people. Sort of. It’s shameful, acting like this. What must everyone think?”

“We think they’re mean little buggers, ” said Nobby. “Now, come on!”

But Carrot had waded into the scuffling mass. He cupped his hands around his mouth and bellowed something in a language Nobby didn’t understand. Practically any language including his native one would have fitted that description, but in this case it was Dwarfish.

“Gr’duzk! Gr’duzk! aaK’zt ezem ke bur’k tze tzim?”[7]

The fighting stopped. A hundred bearded faces glared up at Carrot’s stooped figure, their annoyance mingled with surprise.

A battered tankard bounced off his breastplate. Carrot reached down and picked up a struggling figure, without apparent effort.

“J’uk, ydtruz-t’rud-eztuza, hudr’zddezek drez’huk, huzukruk ‘t b ‘tduz g ‘ke ‘k me ‘ek b ‘tduzt’ be ‘tk kce ‘drutk ke’hkt’d. aaDb’thuk?”[8]

No dwarf had ever heard so many Old Tongue words from the mouth of anyone over four feet high. They were astonished.

Carrot lowered the offending dwarf to the floor. There were tears in his eyes.

“You’re dwarfs!” he said. “Dwarfs shouldn’t be acting like this! Look at you all. Aren’t you ashamed?”

One hundred bone-hard jaws dropped.

“I mean, look at you!” Carrot shook his head. “Can you imagine what your poor, white-bearded old mother, slaving away back in her little hole, wondering how her son is getting on tonight, can you imagine what she’d think if she saw you now? Your own dear mothers, who first showed you how to use a pickaxe-”

Nobby, standing by the doorway in terror and amazement, was aware of a growing chorus of nose-blowings and muffled sobs as Carrot went on: “-she’s probably thinking, I expect he’s having a quiet game of dominoes or something-”

A nearby dwarf, wearing a helmet encrusted with six-inch spikes, started to cry gently into his beer.

“And I bet it’s a long time since any of you wrote her a letter, too, and you promised to write every week-”

Nobby absent-mindedly took out a grubby handkerchief and passed it to a dwarf who was leaning against the wall, shaking with grief.

“Now, then, ” said Carrot kindly. “I don’t want to be hard on anyone, but I shall be coming past here every night from now on and I shall expect to see proper standards of dwarf behaviour. I know what it’s like when you’re far from home, but there’s no excuse for this sort of thing. ” He touched his helmet. “G’hruk, t’uk. ”[9]

He gave them all a bright smile and half-walked, half-crouched out of the bar. As he emerged into the street Nobby tapped him on the arm.

“Don’t you ever do anything like that to me again, ” he fumed. “You’re in the City Watch! Don’t give me any more of this law business!”

“But it is very important, ” said Carrot seriously, trotting after Nobby as he sidled into a narrower street.

“Not as important as stay in’ in one piece, ” said Nobby. “Dwarf bars! If you’ve got any sense, my lad, you’ll come in here. And shut up. ”

Carrot stared up at the building they had reached. It was set back a little from the mud of the street. The sounds of considerable drinking were coming from inside. A battered sign hung over the door. It showed a drum.

“A tavern, is it?” said Carrot, thoughtfully. “Open at this hour?”

“Don’t see why not, ” said Nobby, pushing open the door. “Damn useful idea. The Mended Drum. ”

“And more drinking?” Carrot thumbed hastily through the book.

“I hope so, ” said Nobby. He nodded to the troll which was employed by the Drum as a splatter, [10] “Eve-nin’, Detritus. Just showing the new lad the ropes. ”

The troll grunted, and waved a crusted arm.