‘Him? That one? The man’s a wastrel! A cheat! A liar! They say he takes bri–’

‘Thank you for your diplomatic input, Lord Rust,’ said the Patrician. ‘We must deal with facts as they are. There is always a way. Our nations have many interests in common. And of course it says a lot for the seriousness with which Cadram is treating this matter that he is sending his own brother to deal with it. It’s a nod towards the international community.’

‘A Klatchian bigwig is coming here?’ said Vimes. ‘No one told me!’

‘Strange as it may seem, Sir Samuel, I am occasionally capable of governing this city for minutes at a time without seeking your advice and guidance.’

‘I meant there’s a lot of anti–Klatchian feeling around–’

‘A really greasy piece of work–’ Lord Rust whispered to Mr Boggis, in that special aristocratic whisper that carries to the rafters. ‘It’s an insult to send him here!’

‘I am sure that you will see to it that the streets are safe to walk, Vimes,’ said the Patrician sharply. ‘I know you pride yourself on that sort of thing. Officially he’s here because the wizards have invited him to their big award ceremony. An honorary doctorate, that sort of thing. And one of their lunches afterwards. I do like negotiating with people after the faculty of Unseen University have entertained them to lunch. They tend not to move about much and they’ll agree to practically anything if they think there’s a chance of a stomach powder and a small glass of water. And now, gentlemen… if you will excuse me.. .’ The lords and leaders departed in ones and twos, talking quietly as they walked out into the hall. The Patrician shuffled his papers into order, running a thin finger along each edge of the pile, and then looked up. ‘You appear to be casting a shadow, commander.’

‘You’re not really going to allow them to re–form the regiments, are you?’ said Vimes. ‘There is absolutely no law against it, Vimes. And it will keep them occupied. Every official gentleman is entitled, in fact I believe used to be required, to raise men when the city required it. And, of course, any citizen has the right to bear arms. Bear that in mind, please.’

‘Arms is one thing. Holding weapons in ’em and playing soldiers is another.’ Vimes put his knuckles on the table and leaned forward. ‘You see, sir,’ he said, ‘I can’t help hut think that over there in Klatch a bunch of idiots are doing the same thing. They’re saying to the Seriph “It’s time to sort out those devils in Ankh–Morpork, offendi”. And when a lot of people are running around with weapons and talking daft stuff about war, accidents happen. Have you ever been in a pub when everyone goes armed? Oh, things are a little polite at first, I’ll grant you, and then some twerp drinks out of the wrong mug or picks up someone else’s change by mistake and five minutes later you’re picking noses out of the beer nuts–’

The Patrician looked down at Vimes’s knuckles and stared fixedly until Vimes removed them. ‘Vimes, you will be at the wizards’ Convivium tomorrow. I sent you a memo about it.’

‘I never–’ A vision of the piles of unread paperwork on Vimes’s desk loomed treacherously in his mind. ‘Ah,’ he said. ‘The Commander of the Watch leads the procession in full dress uniform. It’s an ancient custom.’

‘Me? Walk in front of everyone?’

‘Indeed. Very… civic. As I’m sure you recall. It demonstrates the friendly alliance between the University and the civil government which, I may say, seems to consist of their promising to do anything we ask provided we promise not to ask them to do anything. Anyway, it is your duty. Tradition decrees it. And Lady Sybil has agreed to see to it that you are there with a crisp bright shining morning face.’ Vimes took a deep breath. ‘You asked my wife?’

‘Certainly. She is very proud of you. She believes you are capable of great things, Vimes. She must be a great comfort to you.’

‘Well, I… I mean, I… yes…’

‘Excellent. Oh, just one other thing, Vimes. I do have the Assassins and the Thieves in agreement on this, but to cover all eventualities… I would consider it a favour if you could see to it that no–one throws eggs or something at the Prince. That sort of thing always upsets people.’ The two sides watched each other carefully. They were old enemies. They had tested strengths many a time, had tasted defeat and victory, had contested turf. But this time it would go all the way. Knuckles whitened. Boots scraped impatiently. Captain Carrot bounced the ball once or twice. ‘All right, lads, one more try, eh? And this time, no horseplay. William, what are you eating?’ The Artful Nudger scowled. No–one knew his name. Kids he’d grown up with didn’t know his name. His mother, if he ever found out who she was, probably didn’t know his name. But Carrot had found out somehow. If anyone else had called him ‘William’ they’d be looking for their ear. In their mouth. ‘Chewing gum, mister.’

‘Have you brought enough for everybody?’

‘No, mister.’

‘Then put it away, there’s a good chap. Now, let’s– Gavin, what’s that up your sleeve?’ The one known as Scumbag Gav didn’t bother to argue. ‘

‘s a knife, Mr Carrot.’

‘And I bet you brought enough for everybody, eh?’

‘ ‘sright, mister.’ Scumbag grinned. He was ten. ‘Go on, put them on the heap with the others. . Constable Shoe looked over the wall in horror. There were about fifty youths in the wide alleyway. Average age in years, about eleven. Average age in cynicism and malevolent evil: about 163. Although Ankh–Morpork football doesn’t usually have goals in the normal sense, two had been nevertheless made at each end of the alley using the time–honoured method of piling up things to mark where the posts would be. Two piles: one of knives, one of blunt instruments. In the middle of the boys, who were wearing the colours of some of the nastier street gangs, Captain Carrot was bouncing an inflated pig’s bladder. Constable Shoe wondered if he ought to go and get help, but the man seemed quite as ease. ‘Er, captain?’ he ventured. ‘Oh, hello, Reg. We were just having a friendly game of football. This is Constable Shoe, lads.’ Fifty pairs of eyes said: We’ll remember your face, copper. Rag edged around the wall and the eyes noted the arrow which had gone straight through his breastplate and protruded several inches from his back. ‘There’s been a bit of trouble, sir,’ said Reg. ‘I thought I’d better fetch you. It’s a hostage situation…’

‘I’ll come right away. OK, lads, sorry about this. Play amongst yourselves, will you? And I hope I’ll see you all on Tuesday for the sing–song and sausage sizzle., ‘Yeah, mister,’ said the Artful Nudger. ‘And Corporal Argue will see if she can teach you the campfire howl.’

‘Yeah, right,’ said Scumbag. ‘But what do we do before we part?’ said Carrot expectantly. The bloods of the Skats and the Mohocks looked bashfully at one another. Usually they were nervous of nothing, it being a banishment matter to show fear in any circumstances. But when they’d variously drawn up the clan rules, no–one had ever thought there’d he someone like Carrot. Glaring at one another with I’ll–kill–you–if–you–ever–mention–this expressions, they all raised the index fingers of both hands to the level of their ears and chorused: ‘Wib wib wib.’

‘Wob wob wob,’ Carrot replied heartily. ‘OK Reg, let’s go.’

‘How’d you do that, captain?’ said Constable Shoe, as the watchmen hurried off. ‘Oh, you just raise both fingers like this,’ said Carrot. ‘But I’d be obliged if you don’t tell anyone, because it’s meant to be a secret sig–’

‘But they’re thugs, captain! Young killers! Villains!’

‘Oh, they’re a bit cheeky, but nice enough boys undeneath, when you take the time to understand–’

‘I heard they never give anyone enough time to understand! Does Mr Vimes know you’re doing this?’

‘He sort of knows, yes. I said I’d like to start a club for the street kids and he said it was fine provided I took them camping on the edge of some really sheer cliff somewhere in a high wind. But he always says things like that. And I’m sure we wouldn’t have him any other way. Now, where are these hostages?’

‘It’s at Vortin’s again, captain. But it’s… sort of worse than that…’ Behind them, the Skats and the Mohocks looked at one another warily. Then they picked up their weapons and edged away with care. It’s not that we don’t want to fight, their manner said. It’s just that we’ve got better things to do right now, and so we’re going to go away and find out what they are. Unusually for the docks, there was not a great deal of shouting and general conversation. People were too busy thinking about money. Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobbs leaned against a stack of timber and watched a man very carefully painting the name Pride of Ankh–Morpork on the prow of a ship. At some point he’d realize that he’d left out the ‘c’, and they were idly looking forward to this modest entertainment. ‘You ever been to sea, sarge?’ said Nobby. ‘Hah, not me!’ said the sergeant. ‘Don’t go flogging the oggin, lad.’

‘I don’t,’ said Nobby. ‘I have never flogged any oggin. Never in my entire life have I flogged oggin.’


‘I’ve always been very clean in that respect.’

‘Except you don’t know what flogging the oggin means, do you?’

‘No, sarge.’

‘It means going to sea. You can’t bloody trust the sea. When I was a little lad I had this book about this little kid, he turned into a mermaid, sort of thing, and he lived down the bottom of the sea–’

‘–the oggin–’ ‘Right, and it was all nice talking fishes and pink seashells and stuff, and then I went on my holidays to Quirm and I saw the sea, and I thought: here goes, and if our ma hadn’t been quick on her feet I don’t know what would have happened. I mean, the kid in the book could breathe under the sea, so how was I to know? It’s all bloody lies about the sea. It’s just all yuk with lobsters in it.’

‘My mum’s uncle was a sailor" said Nobby. ‘But after the big plague he got press–ganged. Bunch of farmers got him drunk, he woke up next morning tied to a plough.’ They lounged some more. ‘Looks like we’re going to be in a fight, sarge,’ said Nobby, as the painter very carefully started on the final ‘k’.

‘Won’t last long. Lots of cowards, the Klatchians,’ said Colon. ‘The moment they taste a bit of cold steel they’re legging it away over the sand.’ Sergeant Colon had had a broad education. He’d been to the School of My Dad Always Said, the College of It Stands to Reason, and was now a postgraduate student at the University of What Some Bloke In the Pub Told Me. ‘Shouldn’t be any trouble to sort out, then?’ said Nobby. ‘And o’course, they’re not the same colour as what we are,’ said Colon. ‘Well… as me, anyway,’ he added, in view of the various hues of Corporal Nobbs. There was probably no–one alive who was the same colour as Corporal Nobbs. ‘Constable Visit’s pretty brown’

‘ said Nobby. ‘I never seen him run away. if there’s a chance of giving someone a religious pamphlet ole Washpot’s after them like a terrier.’

‘Ah, but Omnians are more like us,’ said Colon. ‘Bit weird but, basic’ly, just the same as us underneath. No, the way you can tell a Klatchian is, you look an’ see if he uses a lot of words beginning with “al”, right? ‘Cos that’s a dead giveaway. They invented all the words starting with “al”. That’s how you can tell they’re Klatchian. Like al–cohol, see?’

‘They invented beer?’


‘That’s clever.’

‘I wouldn’t call it clever,’ said Sergeant Colon, realizing too late that he’d made a tactical error. ‘More, luck, I’d say.’

‘What else did they do?’

‘Well, there’s…’ Colon racked his brains. ‘There’s al–gebra. That’s like sums with letters. For… for people whose brains aren’t clever enough for numbers, see?’