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26.12.2018

‘Not obvious at all to the trained military thinker, sir! They won’t be expecting us there precisely because it is so obvious, d’y’see?’

‘You mean… they’ll think only a complete idiot would land there, sir?’

‘Correct! And they know we’re not complete idiots, sir, and therefore that will be the last place they will be expecting us, d’y’see? They’ll be expecting us somewhere like’ – his stick stabbed into the sand –’here.’ Hornett looked closely. In the street outside, someone started to bang a drum. ‘Oh, you mean Eritor,’ he said. ‘Where I believe there is a concealed landing area, and two days’ forced march through good cover would have us at the heart of the empire, sir.’

‘Exactly!’

‘Whereas landing at M Mints means three days over sand dunes and past the fortified city of Zebra…’

‘Precisely. Wide–open spaces! And that is where we can practise the art of warfare.’ Lord Rust raised his voice above the drumming. ‘That’s how you settle these things. One decisive battle. Us on one side, the Klatchians on the other. THAT IS HOW THESE THINGS ARE D–’ He threw down his pointer. ‘Who the devil is making that infernal noise?’ The equerry walked across to the window. ‘It’s someone else recruiting, sir,’ he said. ‘But we’re all here!’ The equerry hesitated, as the bearers of bad tidings to short–tempered men often do. ‘It’s Vimes, sir…’

‘Recruiting for the Watch?’

‘Er… no, my lord. For a regiment. Er… the banner says “Sir Samuel Vimes’s First of Foot”, my lord–’

‘The arrogance of the man. Go and– No, I’ll go myself!’ There was a crowd in the street. In the centre there rose the bulk of Constable Dorfl, and a key thing about the golem was that if he was banging a drum then no–one was going to ask him to stop. No–one except possibly Lord Rust, who strode up and snatched the drumsticks out of his hands. ‘Yerss, it are species of your choice’s life in der First of Foot!’ shouted Sergeant Detritus, unaware of the events going on behind him. ‘You learnin’ a trade! You learnin’ self–respek! Also you get spiffy uniform plus all der boots you can eat –here, dat’s my banner!’

‘What’s the meaning of this?’ said Rust, flinging the homemade banner on to the ground. ‘Vimes can’t do this!’

A figure detached itself from the wall, where it had been watching the show. ‘You know, I rather think I can,’ said Vimes. He handed Rust a piece of paper. ‘It’s all here, my lord. With references citing the highest authorities, in case you are in any doubt.’

‘Citing the–?’

‘On the role of a knight, my lord. In fact the duties of a knight, funnily enough. A lot of it is pretty damn stupid stuff, riding around the place on one of those bloody great horses with curtains round it and so on, but one of them says in time of need a knight has to raise and maintain you’ll laugh when I tell you this a body of armed soldiers! No–one could have been more surprised than me, I don’t mind telling you! Seems there’s nothing for it but I have to go out and get some chaps together. Of course, most of the watch have joined, well, you know how it is, disciplined lads, anxious to do their bit, so that saved me a bit of effort. Except for Nobby Nobbs, ‘cos he says if he leaves it till Thursday he’s going to have enough white feathers for a mattress.’ Rust’s expression would have preserved meat for a year. ‘This is a nonsense,’ he said. ‘And you, Vimes, certainly are no knight. Only a king can make–’

‘There’s a good few lordships in this city created by the Patricians,’ said Vimes. ‘Your friend Lord Downey, for one. You were saying?’

‘Then if you persist in playing games I will say that before a knight is created he must spend a night’s vigil watching his armour–’

‘Practically every night of my life,’ said Vimes. ‘A man doesn’t keep an eye on his armour round here, that man’s got no armour in the morning.’

‘In prayer,’ said Rust sharply. ‘That’s me,’ said Vimes. ‘Not a night has gone by without me thinking, “Ye gods, I hope I get through this alive.” ‘

‘–and he must have proved himself on the field of combat. Against other trained men, Vimes. Not vermin and thugs.’ Vimes started to undo the strap of his helmet. ‘Well, this isn’t the best of moments, my lord, but if someone’ll hold your coat I can spare you five minutes…’ In Vimes’s eyes Rust recognized the fiery gleam of burning boats. ‘I know what you’re doing, Vimes, and I am not going to rise to it,’ he said, taking a step back. ‘In any case, you have had no formal training in arms.’

‘That’s true,’ said Vimes. ‘You’ve got me there, right enough. No–one ever trained me in arms. I was lucky there.’ He leaned closer and lowered his voice so that the watching crowd wouldn’t hear. ‘Y’see, I know what “training in arms” means, Ronald. There hasn’t been a real war in ages. So it’s all prancing around wearing padded waistcoats and waving swords with knobs on the end so no–one’ll really get hurt, isn’t it? But down in the Shades no– one’s had any training in arms either. Wouldn’t know an epee from a sabre.

No, what they’re good at is a broken bottle in one hand and a length of four– by–two in the other and when you face ’em, Ronnie, you know you aren’t going off for a laugh and a jolly drink afterwards, ‘cos they want you dead. They want to kill you, you see, Ron? And by the time you’ve swung your nice shiny broadsword they’ve carved their name and address on your stomach. And that’s where I got my training in arms. Well… fists and knees and teeth and elbows, mostly.’

‘You, sir, are no gentleman,’ said Rust. ‘I knew there was something about me that I liked.’

‘Can you not even see that you can’t enrol… dwarfs and trolls in an Ankh– Morpork regiment?’

‘It just says “armed soldiers”, and dwarfs come with their own axes. A great saving. Besides, if you’ve ever seen them really fight, then you must’ve been on the same side.’

‘Vimes–’

‘It’s Sir Samuel, my lord.’ Rust seemed to think for a moment. ‘Very well, then,’ he said. ‘Then you and your… regiment come under my command–’

‘Strangely, no,’ said Vimes swiftly. ‘Under the command of the King or his duly appointed representative, it says in Scavone’s Chivalric Law and Usage. And, of course, there has been no duly appointed representative ever since some complete bastard cut off the last king’s head. Oh, assorted beds appeared to have been ruling the city, but according to the chivalric tradition–’ Rust stopped to think again. He had the look of a lawnmower just after the grass has organized a workers’ collective. There was a definite suggestion that, deep inside, he knew this was not really happening. It could not be happening because this sort of thing did not happen. Any contradictory evidence could be safely ignored. However, it might be necessary to find some motions to go through. ‘I think you’ll find that, legally, your position–’ he began, and his eyes bulged for a moment as Vimes interrupted him cheerfully. ‘Oh, there might be a few problems, I grant you. But if you ask Mr Slant he’ll say “This is a very interesting case”, which as you know is lawyer–talk for “One thousand dollars a day plus expenses and it’ll take months.” So I’ll leave you go get on with it, shall P Cot such a lot of things to do, you know. I think the swatches for the new uniforms should be in my office about now, it’s so important to look right on the battlefield, isn’t it?’ Rust gave Vimes another look, and then strode away. Detritus stamped to attention beside Vimes and his salute clanged smartly off his helmet. ‘What we doin’ now, sir?’

‘We can pack up now, I think. All the lads have joined up?’

‘Yessir!’

‘You told them it wasn’t compulsory?’

‘Yessir! I said, “It ain’t compuls’ry, you just gotta,” sir.’

‘Detritus, I wanted volunteers.’

‘ ‘sright, sir. They volunteered all right, I saw to that.’ Vimes sighed as he walked back to his office. But they were probably safe. He was pretty sure he was legally sound and if he knew anything about Rust, the man would respect the letter of the law. Such men did, in a chilly way. Besides, thirty men in the Watch simply didn’t figure in the great scheme of things. Rust could ignore them. Suddenly there’s a war brewing, Vimes thought, and they all come back. Civil order is turned upside down, because that’s the rules. And people like Rust are at the top of the heap again. You have these aristocrats lazing around for years, and suddenly the old armour’s out and the sword is being taken down from over the fireplace. They think there’s going to be a war and all they can think about is that wars can be won or lost… Someone’s behind this. Someone wants to see a war. Someone paid to have Ossie and Snowy killed. Someone wanted the Prince dead. I’ve got to remember that. This isn’t a war. This is a crime. And then he realized he was wondering if the attack on Goriffs shop had been organized by the same people, and whether those same people had set fire to the embassy. And then he realized why he was thinking like this. It was because he wanted there to be conspirators. It was much better to imagine men in some smoky room somewhere, made mad and cynical by privilege and power, plotting over the brandy. You had to cling to this sort of image, because if you didn’t then you might have to face the fact that bad things happened because ordinary people, the kind who brushed the dog and told their children bedtime stories, were capable of then going out and doing horrible things to other ordinary people. It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone’s fault. If it was Us, what did that make Me? After all, Im one of Us. I must be. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No-one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We’re always one of Us. It’s Them that do the bad things. Around about this time, in his former life, Vimes would be taking the cap off a bottle, and wouldn’t be too bothered about the bottle’s contents so long as they crinkled paint ‘Ook?’

‘Oh, hello. What can I do for – oh, yes, I asked about books on Klatch… Is that all?’ The librarian shyly held out a small, battered green book. Vimes had been expecting something bigger, but he took it anyway. It paid to look at any book the orang–utan gave you. He matched you up to books. Vimes

supposed it was a knack, in the same way that an undertaker was very good at judging heights. On the spine, in very faded gold lettering, were the words ‘VENI VIDI VICI: A Soldier’s Life by Gen. A. Tacticus’. Nobby and Sergeant Colon edged along the alley. ‘I know who he is!’ Fred hissed. ‘That’s Leonard of Quirm, that is! He went missing five years ago!’

‘So he’s called Leonard and he’s from Quirm, so what?’ said Nobby. ‘He’s a raving genius!’

‘He’s a loony.’

‘Yeah, well, they say there’s a thin line between genius and madness…’

‘He’s fallen off it, then.’ The voice behind them said, ‘Oh, dear, this won’t do at all, will it… ? I can’t deny it, you were quite right, the accuracy would be quite unacceptable at any reasonable range. Could you bear to stop a moment, please?’ They turned. Leonard was already dismantling the tube. ‘If you could just hang on to this bit, corporal… and, sergeant, if you would be so good as to hold this piece steady… some sort of fins should do it, Im sure I had a suitable piece of wood somewhere Leonard began to pat his pockets. The watchmen realized that the man holding them up had paused to redesign his weapon and had given it to them to hold while he looked for a screwdriver. This was a thing that did not often happen. Nobby silently took the rocket from Colon and pushed it into the tube. ‘What’s this bit here, mister?’ he said. Leonard glanced up briefly in between patting his pockets. ‘Oh, that is the trigger,’ he said. ‘Which, as you can see, rubs against the flint and–’