‘Is that a fact?’

‘Right,’ said Colon. ‘In fact,’ he went on, a little more assertively now he could see a way ahead, ‘I heard this wizard down the University say that the Klatchians invented nothing. That was their great contribution to maffs, he said. I said “What?” an’ he said, they come up with zero.’

‘Dun’t sound that clever to me,’ said Nobby. ‘Anyone could invent nothing. I ain’t invented anything.’

‘My point exactly,’ said Colon. ‘I told him, it was people who invented numbers like four and, and–’


‘–right, who were the geniuses. Nothing didn’t need inventing. It was just there. They probably just found it.’

‘It’s having all that desert,’ said Nobby. ‘Right! Good point. Desert. Which, as everyone knows, is basically nothing. Nothing’s a natural resource to them. It stands to reason. Whereas we’re more civilized, see, and we got a lot more stuff

around to count, so we invented numbers. It’s like… well, they say the Klatchians invented astronomy–’

‘Al–tronomy,’ said Nobby helpfully. ‘No, no… no, Nobby, I reckon they’d discovered esses by then, probably nicked’ em off’f us… anyway, they were bound to invent astronomy, ‘cos there’s bugger all else for them to look at but the sky. Anyone can look at the stars and give ’em names. ‘s going it a bit to call it inventing, in any case. We don’t go around saying we’ve invented something just because we had a quick dekko at it.’

‘I heard where they’ve got a lot of odd gods,’ said Nobby. ‘Yeah, and mad priests,’ said Colon. ‘Foaming at the mouth, half of ’em. Believe all kinds of loony things.’ They watched the painter in silence for a moment. Colon was dreading the question that came. ‘So how exactly are they different from ours, then?’ said Nobby. ‘I mean, some of our priests are–’

‘I hope you ain’t being unpatriotic,’ said Colon severely. ‘No, of course not. I was just asking. I can see where they’d be a lot worse than ours, being foreign and everything. ‘And of course they’re all mad for fighting,’ said Colon. ‘Vicious buggers with all those curvy swords of theirs.’

‘You mean, like they viciously attack you while cowardly running away after tasting cold steel?’ said Nobby, who sometimes had a treacherously good memory for detail. ‘You can’t trust ’em, like I said. And they burp hugely after meals.’

‘Well… so do you, sarge.’

‘Yes, but I don’t pretend it’s polite, Nobby.’

‘Well, it’s certainly a good job there’s you around to explain things, sarge,’ said Nobby. ‘It’s amazing the stuff you know.’

‘I surprise myself, sometimes,’ said Colon modestly. The painter of the ship leaned back to admire his work. They heard him give a heartfelt little groan, and both of them nodded in satisfaction. Hostage negotiations were always tricky, Carrot had learned. It paid not to rush things. Let the other man talk when he was ready. So he was whiling away the time sitting behind the upturned cart they were using as a shield from the occasional random arrow and writing his letter home. The exercise was carried out with much frowning, sucking of the pencil and what Commander Vimes called a ballistic approach to spelling and punctuation. Dere Mum and Dade, I hope this letter finds you in good health as I am also. Thank you for the big parcel of dwarf bread you

sent me I have sharred it with the other dwarfs on the Watch and they say it is better even than Ironcrufts (‘t’Bread Wi’ T’Edge’) and you carn’t beat the taste of a home–forged loaf, so well done mum. Things are going well with the Wolf Pack that I have told you about but Cmdr. Vimes is not happy, I told him they were good lads at heart and it would help them to learn the ways of Natchure and the Wilderness and he said hah they know them already that is the trouble. But he gave me $5 to buy a football which proves he cares deep down. We have more new faeces in the Watch which is just as well with this truble with Klatch, it is all looking very Grave, Ifeel it is the Clam before the Storm and no mistake. I must brake off now because some robbers have broke into Vortin’s Dimond Warehouse and have taken Corporal Angua hostage. I fear there may be terrible bloodshed so, I remain, Yr. Loving Son, Carrot Ironfoundersson (Captain) ps I will write again tomorrow Carrot folded the letter carefully and slipped it under his breastplate. ‘I think they have had long enough to consider our suggestion, constable. What’s next on the list?’ Constable Shoe leafed through a file of grubby paper and pulled out another sheet ‘Well, we’re down to offences of stealing pennies off blind beggars now,’ he said. ‘Oh, no, this is a good one…’ Carrot took the sheet in one hand and megaphone in the other and raised his head carefully over the edge of the cart. ‘Good morning again!’ he said brightly. ‘We’ve found another one. Theft of jewellery from–’

‘Yes! Yes! We did it!’ shouted a voice from the building. ‘Really? I haven’t even said what it was yet,’ said Carrot. ‘Never mind, we did it! Now can we come out, please?’ There was another sound behind the voice. It sounded like a low, continuous growl. ‘I think you ought to be able to tell me what you stole,’ said Carrot. ‘Er… rings? Cold rings?’

‘Sorry, no rings mentioned.’

‘Pearl necklace? Yes, that’s what–’

‘Getting warmer, but no.’


‘Ooo, you’re so close,’ said Carrot encouragingly. ‘A crown, was it? Maybe a coronet?’ Carrot leaned down to the constable. ‘Says here a tiara, Reg, can we let–?’ He stood up. ‘We’re prepared to accept “coronet”. Well done!’ He looked down at Constable Shoe again. ‘This is all right, isn’t it, Reg? It’s not coercion, is it?’

‘Can’t see how it can be, captain. I mean, they broke in, they took a hostage…’

‘I suppose you’re right–’

‘Please! No! Good boy! Down!’

‘Seems to be about it, sir,’ said Reg Shoe, peering around the edge of the cart. ‘We’ve got them down for everything but the Hide Park Flasher–’

‘We did that!’ screamed someone. ‘–and that was a woman…’

‘We did it!’ This time the voice was a lot higher. ‘Now please can we come out?’ Carrot stood up and raised the megaphone. ‘If you gentlemen would care to step out with your hands up?’

‘Are you joking?’ whimpered someone, against the background of another growl. ‘Well, at least with your hands where I can see them.’

‘You bet, mister!’ Four men stumbled out into the street. Their tom clothing fluttered in the breeze. The apparent leader pointed an angry finger back at the doorway as Carrot walked towards them. ‘The owner of that place ought to be prosecuted!’ he shouted. ‘Keeping a wild animal like that in his strongroom, it’s disgraceful! We broke in perfectly peacefully and it just attacked us for no reason at all!’

‘You shot at Constable Shoe here,’ said Carrot. ‘Only to miss! Only to miss!’ Constable Shoe pointed at the arrow sticking into his breastplate. ‘Right where it shows!’ he complained. ‘It’s a welding job and we have to pay for our own armour repairs and there’ll always be a mark, you know, no matter what I do.’ Their horrified gaze took in the stitch marks around his neck and on his hands, and it dawned on them that although the human race came in a variety of colours, very few living people were grey with a hint of green. ‘Here, you’re a zombie!’

‘That’s right, kick a man when he’s dead,’ said Constable Shoe sharply. ‘And you took Corporal Angua hostage. A lady,’ said Carrot, in the same level voice. It was very polite. But it simply suggested that somewhere a fuse was burning, and it would be a good idea not to wait for it to reach the barrel.

‘Yes… sort of… but she must’ve got away when that creature turned up…’

‘So you left her in there?’ said Carrot, still very calm. The men dropped to their knees. The leader raised his hand imploringly. ‘Please! We’re just robbers and thieves! We’re not bad men!’ Carrot nodded to Constable Shoe. ‘Take them down to the Yard, constable.’

‘Right!’ said Reg. There was a mean look in his eye as he cocked his crossbow. ‘I’m down ten dollars thanks to you. So you’d better not try to escape.’

‘No, sir. Not us.’ Carrot wandered into the gloom of the building. Fearful faces peered out of doorways. He gave them a reassuring smile as he walked towards the strongroom. Corporal Angua was adjusting her uniform. ‘I didn’t bite anyone, before you start,’ she said, as he appeared in the doorway. ‘Not even flesh wounds. I just tore at their trousers. And that was no bed of roses, I might add.’ A frightened face appeared round the door. ‘Ah, Mr Vortin,’ said Carrot. ‘I think you will find that all is in order. They seem to have dropped everything.’ The diamond merchant looked at him in amazement. ‘But they had a hostage–’

‘They saw the error of their ways,’ said Carrot. ‘And… and there were snarling noises… sounded like a wolf…’

‘Ah, yes,’ said Carrot. ‘Well, you know, when thieves fall out…’ Which was no kind of explanation, but because the tone of voice suggested that it was, Mr Vortin accepted it as such for fully five minutes after Carrot and Angua had left. ‘Well, that’s a nice start to the day,’ said Carrot. ‘Thank you, yes, I wasn’t hurt,’ said Angua. ‘It makes it all seem worthwhile, somehow.’

‘Just my hair messed up and another shirt ruined.’

‘Well done.’

‘Sometimes I might suspect that you don’t listen to anything I say,’ said Angua. ‘Glad to hear it,’ said Carrot. The entire Watch was mustering. Vimes looked down at the sea of faces. My gods, he thought. How many have we got now? A few years ago you could count the Watch on the fingers of a blind butcher’s hand, and now… There’s more coming in! He leaned sideways to Captain Carrot. ‘Who’re all these people?’

‘Watchmen, sir. You appointed them.’

‘Did I? I haven’t even met some of them!’

‘You signed the paperwork, sir. And you sign the wage bill every month. Eventually.’ There was a hint of criticism in his voice. Vimes’s approach to paperwork was not to touch it until someone was shouting, and then at least there would be someone to help him sort through the stacks. ‘But how did they join?’

‘Usual way, sir. Swore them in, gave them each a helmet–’

‘Hey, that’s Reg Shoe! He’s a zombie! He falls to bits all the time!’

‘Very big man in the undead community, sir,’ said Carrot. ‘How come he joined?’

‘He came round last week to complain about the Watch harassing some bogeymen, sir. He was very, er, vehement, sir. So I persuaded him that what the Watch needed was some expertise, and so he joined up, sir.’

‘No more complaints?’

‘Twice as many, sir. All from undead, sir, and all against Mr Shoe. Funny, that.’ Vimes gave his captain a sideways look. ‘He’s very hurt about it, sir. He says he’s found that the undead just don’t understand the difficulties of policing in a multi–vital society, sir.’ Good gods, thought Vimes, that’s just what I would have done. But Id have done it because I’m not a nice person. Carrot is a nice person, he’s practially got medals for it, surely he wouldn’t have… And he knew that he would never know. Somewhere behind Carrot’s innocent stare was a steel door. ‘You enrolled him, did you?’

‘Nossir. You did, sir. You signed his joining orders and his kit chitty and his posting orders, sir.’ Vimes had another vision of too many documents, hurriedly signed. But he must have signed them and they needed the men, true enough. It was just that it ought to be him who– ‘And anyone of sergeant rank or above can recruit, sir,’ said Carrot, as if reading his mind. ‘It’s in the General Orders. Page twenty–two, sir. just below the tea stain.’

‘And you’ve recruited… how many?’

‘Oh, just one or two. We’re still very short–handed, sir.’

‘We are with Reg. His arms keep falling off.’

‘Aren’t you going to talk to the men, sir?’ Vimes looked at the assembled… well, multitude. There was no other word. Well, there were plenty, but none that it would be fair to use. Big ones, short ones, fat ones, troll ones with the lichen still on, bearded dwarf ones, the looming pottery presence of the golem Constable Dorfl, undead ones… and even now he wasn’t certain if that term should include Corporal Angua, an intelligent girl and a very useful wolf when she had to