Men at Arms Page 14


'Following the trail.'

'What for? He won't thank you, you know.'

'Who won't?'

'Your young man.'

Angua stopped so suddenly that Gaspode ran into her.

'You mean Corporal Carrot? He's not my young man!'

'Yeah? I'm a dog, right? It's all in the nose, right? Smell can't lie. Pheremonies. It's the ole sexual alchemy stuff.'

'I've only known him a couple of nights!'

'Aha!'

'What do you mean, aha?'

'Nothing, nothing. Nothing wrong with it, anyway—'

'There isn't any it to be wrong!'

'Right, right. Not that it would be,' said Gaspode, adding hurriedly, 'even if there was. Everyone likes Corporal Carrot.'

'They do, don't they,' said Angua, her hackles settling down. 'He's very . . . likeable.'

'Even Big Fido only bit his hand when Carrot tried to pat him.'

'Who's Big Fido?'

'Chief Barker of the Dog Guild.'

'Dogs have got a Guild? Dogs? Pull one of the other ones, it's got bells on—'

'No, straight up. Scavenging rights, sunbathing spots, night-time barking duty, breeding rights, howling rotas . . . the whole bone of rubber.'

'Dog Guild,' snarled Angua sarcastically. 'Oh, yeah.'

'Chase a rat up a pipe in the wrong street and call me a liar. 'S'good job for you I'm around, else you could get into big trouble. There's big trouble for a dog in this town who ain't a Guild member. It's lucky for you,' said Gaspode, 'that you met me.'

'I suppose you're a big ma—dog in the Guild, yes?'

'Ain't a member,' said Gaspode smugly.

'How come you survive, then?'

'I can think on my paws, me. Anyway, Big Fido leaves me alone. I got the Power.'

'What power?'

'Never you mind. Big Fido . . . he's a friend o' mine.'

'Biting a man's arm for patting you doesn't sound very friendly.'

'Yeah? Last man who tried to pat Big Fido, they only ever found his belt buckle.'

'Yes?'

'And that was in a tree.'

'Where are we?'

'Not even a tree near here. What?'

Gaspode sniffed the air. His nose could read the city in a way reminiscent of Captain Vimes' educated soles.

'Junction of Scoone Avenue and Prouts,' he said.

'Trail's dying out. It's mixed up with too much other stuff.'

Angua sniffed around for a while. Someone had come up here, but too many people had crossed the trail. The sharp smell was still there, but only as a suggestion in the welter of conflicting scents.

She was aware of an overwhelming smell of approaching soap. She'd noticed it before, but only as a woman and only as a faint whiff. As a quadruped, it seemed to fill the world.

Corporal Carrot was walking up the road, looking thoughtful. He wasn't looking where he was going, however, but he didn't need to. People stood aside for Corporal Carrot.

It was the first time she'd seen him through these eyes. Good grief. How did people not notice it? He walked through the city like a tiger through tall grass, or a hubland bear across the snow, wearing the landscape like a skin—

Gaspode glanced sideways. Angua was sitting on her haunches, staring.

'Yer tongue's hanging out,' he said.

'What? . . . So? So what? That's natural. I'm panting.'

'Har, har.'

Carrot noticed them, and stopped.

'Why, it's the little mongrel dog,' he said.

'Woof, woof,' said Gaspode, his traitor tail wagging.

'I see you've got a lady friend, anyway,' said Carrot, patting him on the head and then absent-mindedly wiping his hand on his tunic.

'And, my word, what a splendid bitch,' he said. 'A Ramtop wolfhound, if I'm any judge.' He stroked Angua in a vague friendly way. 'Oh, well,' he said. 'This isn't getting any work done, is it?'

'Woof, whine, give the doggy a biscuit,' said Gaspode.

Carrot stood up and patted his pockets. 'I think I've got a piece of biscuit here – well, I could believe you understand every word I say . . .'

Gaspode begged, and caught the biscuit easily.

'Woof, woof, fawn, fawn,' he said.

Carrot gave Gaspode the slightly puzzled look that people always gave him when he said 'woof instead of barking, nodded at Angua, and carried on towards Scoone Avenue and Lady Ramkin's house.

'There,' said Gaspode, crunching the stale biscuit noisily, 'goes a very nice boy. Simple, but nice.'

'Yes, he is simple, isn't he?' said Angua. 'That's what I first noticed about him. He's simple. And everything else here is complicated.'

'He was making sheep's eyes at you earlier,' said Gaspode. 'Not that I've got anything against sheep's eyes, mind you. If they're fresh.'

'You're disgusting.'

'Yeah, but at least I stay the same shape all month, no offence meant.'

'You're asking for a bite.'

'Oh, yeah,' moaned Gaspode. 'Yeah, you'll bite me. Aaargh. Oh, yes, that'll really worry me, that will. I mean, think about it. I've got so many dog diseases I'm only alive 'cos the little buggers are too busy fighting among 'emselves. I mean, I've even got Licky End, and you only get that if you're a pregnant sheep. Go on. Bite me. Change my life. Every time there's a full moon, suddenly I grow hair and yellow teeth and have to go around on all fours. Yes, I can see that making a big difference to my ongoing situation. Actually,' he said, 'I'm definitely on a losing streak in the hair department, so maybe a, you know, not the whole bite, maybe just a nibble—'

'Shut up.' At least you've got a lady friend, Carrot had said. As if there was something on his mind . . .

'A quick lick, even—'

'Shut up.'

'This unrest is all Vetinari's fault,' said the Duke of Eorle. 'The man has no style! So now, of course, we have a city where grocers have as much influence as barons. He even let the plumbers form a Guild! That's against nature, in my humble opinion.'

'It wouldn't be so bad if he set some kind of social example,' said Lady Omnius,

'Or even governed,' said Lady Selachii. 'People seem to be able to get away with anything.'

'I admit that the old kings were not necessarily our kind of people, towards the end,' said the Duke of Eorle, 'but at least they stood for something, in my humble opinion. We had a decent city in those days. People were more respectful and knew their place. People put in a decent day's work, they didn't laze around all the time. And we certainly didn't open the gates to whatever riffraff was capable of walking through. And of course we also had law. Isn't that so, captain?'

Captain Samuel Vimes stared glassily at a point somewhere to the left and just above the speaker's left ear.

Cigar smoke hung almost motionless in the air. Vimes was dimly aware that he'd spent several hours eating too much food in the company of people he didn't like.

He longed for the smell of damp streets and the feel of the cobbles under his cardboard soles. A tray of postprandial drinks was orbiting the table, but Vimes hadn't touched it, because it upset Sybil. And she tried not to show it, and that upset him even more.

The Bearhugger's had worn off. He hated being sober. It meant he started to think. One of the thoughts jostling for space was that there was no such thing as a humble opinion.

He hadn't had much experience with the rich and powerful. Coppers didn't, as a rule. It wasn't that they were less prone to commit crimes, it was just that the crimes they committed tended to be so far above the normal level of criminality that they were beyond the reach of men with bad boots and rusting mail. Owning a hundred slum properties wasn't a crime, although living in one was, almost; Being an Assassin – the Guild never actually said so, but an important qualification was being the son or daughter of a gentleman – wasn't a crime. If you had enough money, you could hardly commit crimes at all. You just perpetrated amusing little peccadilloes.

'And now everywhere you look it's uppity dwarfs and trolls and rude people,' said Lady Selachii. 'There's more dwarfs in Ankh-Morpork now than there are in any of their own cities, or whatever they call their holes.'

'What do you think, captain?' said the Duke of Eorle.

'Hmm?' Captain Vimes picked up a grape and started turning it over and over in his fingers.

'The current ethnic problem.'

'Are we having one?'

'Well, yes . . . Look at Quarry Lane. There's fighting there every night!'

'And they have absolutely no concept of religion!'

Vimes examined the grape minutely. What he wanted to say was: Of course they fight. They're trolls. Of course they bash one another with clubs – trollish is basically body language and, well, they like to shout. In fact, the only one who ever gives anyone any real trouble is that bastard Chrysoprase, and that's only because he apes humans and is a quick learner. As tor religion, troll'gods were hitting one another with clubs ten thousand years before we'd even stopped trying to eat rocks.

But the memory of the dead dwarf stirred something perverse in his soul.

He put the grape back on his plate.

'Definitely,' he said. 'In my view, the godless bastards should be rounded up and marched out of the city at spearpoint.'

There was a moment's silence.

'It's no more than they deserve,' Vimes added.

'Exactly! They're barely more than animals,' said Lady Omnius. Vimes suspected her first name was Sara.

'Have you noticed how massive their heads are?' said Vimes. 'That's really just rock. Very small brains.'

'And morally, of course . . .' said Lord Eorle.

There was a murmur of vague agreement. Vimes reached for his glass.

'Willikins, I don't think Captain Vimes wants any wine,' said Lady Ramkin.

'Wrong!' said Vimes cheerfully. 'And while we're on the subject, how about the dwarfs?'

'I don't know if anyone's noticed,' said Lord Eorle, 'but you certainly don't see as many dogs about as you used to.'

Vimes stared. It was true about the dogs. There didn't seem to be quite so many mooching around these days, that was a fact. But he'd visited a few dwarf bars with Carrot, and knew that dwarfs would indeed eat dog, but only if they couldn't get rat. And ten thousand dwarfs eating continuously with knife, fork and shovel wouldn't make a dent in Ankh-Morpork's rat population. It was a major feature in dwarfish letters back home: come on, everyone, and bring the ketchup.

'Notice how small their heads are?' he managed. 'Very limited capacity, surely. Fact of measure-ment.'

'And you never see their women,' said Lady Sara Omnius. 'I find that very . . . suspicious. You know what they say about dwarfs,' she added darkly.

Vimes sighed. He was just about aware that you saw their women all the time, although they looked just like the male dwarfs. Surely everyone knew that, who knew anything about dwarfs?

'Cunning little devils too,' said Lady Selachii. 'Sharp as needles.'

'You know,' Vimes shook his head, 'you know, that's what's so damn annoying, isn't it? The way they can be so incapable of any rational thought and so bloody shrewd at the same time.'

Only Vimes saw the look Lady Ramkin flashed him. Lord Eorle stubbed out his cigar.

'They just move in and take over. And work away like ants all the time real people should be getting some sleep. It's not natural.'

Vimes' mind circled the comment and compared it to the earlier one about a decent day's work.

'Well, one of them won't be working so hard,' said Lady Omnius. 'My maid said one of them was found in the river this morning. Probably some tribal war or something.'

'Hah . . . it's a start, anyway,' said Lord Eorle, laughing. 'Not that anyone will notice one more or less.'

Vimes smiled brightly.

There was a wine bottle near his hand, despite Will-ikins' tactful best efforts to remove it. The neck looked invitingly grippable—

Prev Next