Men at Arms Page 25


'Can't one of you get him a blanket or something?' he said.

A very fat man said, 'Huh? Who'd use a blanket after it had been on a troll?'

'Hah, yes, good point,' said Cuddy. He glanced at the five holes in Detritus' breastplate. They were at about head height, for a dwarf. 'Could you come over here for a moment, please?'

The man grinned at his friends, and sauntered over.

'I expect you can see the holes in his armour, right?' said Cuddy.

C. M. O. T. Dibbler was a survivor. In the same way that rodents and insects can sense an earthquake ahead of the first tremors, so he could tell if something big was about to go down on the street. Cuddy was being too nice. When a dwarf was nice like that, it meant he was saving up to be nasty later on.

'I'll just, er, go about my business, then,' he said, and backed away.

'I've got nothing against dwarfs, mind you,' said the fat man. 'I mean, dwarfs is practically people, in my book. Just shorter humans, almost. But trolls . . . weeeelll . . . they're not the same as us, right?'

' 'scuse me, 'scuse me, gangway, gangway,' said Dibbler, achieving with his cart the kind of getaway customarily associated with vehicles that have fluffy dice on the windscreen.

'That's a nice coat you've got there,' said Cuddy.

Dibbler's cart went around the corner on one wheel.

'It's a nice coat,' said Cuddy. 'You know what you should do with a coat like that?'

The man's forehead wrinkled.

'Take it off right now,' said Cuddy, 'and give it to the troll.'

'Why, you little—'

The man grabbed Cuddy by his shirt and wrenched him upwards.

The dwarf's hand moved very quickly. There was a scrape of metal.

Man and dwarf made an interesting and absolute stationary tableau for a few seconds.

Cuddy had been brought up almost level with the man's face, and watched with interest as the eyes began to water.

'Let me down,' said Cuddy. 'Gently. I make involuntary muscle movements if I'm startled.'

The man did so.

'Now take off your coat . . . good . . . just pass it over . . . thank you . . .'

'Your axe . . .' the man murmured.

'Axe? Axe? My axe?' Cuddy looked down. 'Well, well, well. Hardly knew I was holding it there. My axe. Well, there's a thing.'

The man was trying to stand on tiptoe. His eyes were watering.

'The thing about this axe,' said Cuddy, 'the interesting thing, is that it's a throwing axe. I was champion three years running up at Copperhead. I could draw it and split a twig thirty yards away in one second. Behind me. And I was ill that day. A bilious attack.'

He backed away. The man sank gratefully on to his heels.

Cuddy draped the coat over the troll's shoulders.

'Come on, on your feet,' he said. 'Let's get you home.'

The troll lumbered upright.

'How many fingers am I holding up?' said Cuddy.

Detritus peered.

'Two and one?' he suggested.

'It'll do,' said Cuddy. 'For a start.'

Mr Cheese looked over the bar at Captain Vimes, who hadn't moved for an hour. The Bucket was used to serious drinkers, who drank without pleasure but with a sort of determination never to see sobriety again. But this was something new. This was worrying. He didn't want a death on his hands.

There was no-one else in the bar. He hung his apron on a nail and hurried out towards the Watch House, ahnost colliding with Carrot and Angua in the doorway.

'Oh, I'm glad that's you, Corporal Carrot,' he said. 'You'd better come. It's Captain Vimes.'

'What's happened to him?'

'I don't know. He's drunk an awful lot.'

'I thought he was off the stuff!'

'I think,' said Mr Cheese cautiously, 'that this is not the case any more.'

A scene, somewhere near Quarry Lane: 'Where we going?'

'I'm going to get someone to have a look at you.'

'Not dwarf doctor!'

'There must be someone up here who knows how to slap some quick-drying cement on you, or whatever you do. Should you be oozing like that?'

'Dunno. Never oozed before. Where we?'

'Dunno. Never been down here before.'

The area was on the windward side of the cattle yards and the slaughterhouse district. That meant it was shunned as living space by everyone except trolls, to whom the organic odours were about as relevant and noticeable as the smell of granite would be to humans. The old joke went: the trolls live next to the cattleyard? What about the stench? Oh, the cattle don't mind . . .

Which was daft. Trolls didn't smell, except to other trolls.

There was a slabby look about the buildings here. They had been built for humans but adapted by trolls, which broadly had meant kicking the doorways wider and blocking up the windows. It was still daylight. There weren't any trolls visible.

'Ugh,' said Detritus.

'Come on, big man,' said Cuddy, pushing Detritus along like a tug pushes a tanker.

'Lance-Constable Cuddy?'

'Yes.'

'You a dwarf. This is Quarry Lane. You found here, you in deep trouble.'

'We're city guards.'

'Chrysoprase, he not give a coprolith about that stuff.'

Cuddy looked around.

'What do you people use for doctors, anyway?'

A troll face appeared in a doorway. And another. And another.

What Cuddy had thought was a pile of rubble turned out to be a troll.

There were, suddenly, trolls everywhere.

I'm a guard, thought Cuddy. That's what Sergeant Colon said. Stop being a dwarf and start being a Watchman. That's what I am. Not a dwarf. A Watchman. They gave me a badge, shaped like a shield. City Watch, that's me. I carry a badge.

I wish it was a lot bigger.

Vimes was sitting quietly at a table in the corner of The Bucket. There were some pieces of paper and a handful of metal objects in front of him, but he was staring at his fist. It was lying on the table, clenched so tight the knuckles were white.

'Captain Vimes?' said Carrot, waving a hand in front of his eyes. There was no response.

'How much has he had?'

'Two nips of whiskey, that's all.'

'That shouldn't do this to him, even on an empty stomach,' said Carrot.

Angua pointed at the neck of a bottle protruding from Vimes' pocket.

'I don't think he's been drinking on an empty stomach,' she said. 'I think he put some alcohol in it first.'

'Captain Vimes?' said Carrot again.

'What's he holding in his hand?' said Angua.

'I don't know. This is bad, I've never seen him like this before. Come on. You take the stuff. I'll take the captain.'

'He hasn't paid for his drink,' said Mr Cheese.

Angua and Carrot looked at him.

'On the house?' said Mr Cheese.

There was a wall of trolls around Cuddy. It was as good a choice of word as any. Right now their attitude was more of surprise than menace, such as dogs might show if a cat had just sauntered into the kennels. But when they'd finally got used to the idea that he really existed, it was probably only a matter of time before this state of affairs no longer obtained.

Finally, one of them said, 'What dis, then?'

'He a man of the Watch, same as me,' said Detritus.

'Him a dwarf.'

'He a Watchman.'

'Him got bloody cheek, I know that.' A stubby troll finger prodded Cuddy in the back. The trolls crowded in.

'I count to ten,' said Detritus. 'Then any troll not going about that troll's business, he a sorry troll.'

'You Detritus,' said a particularly wide troll. 'Everyone know you stupid troll, you join Watch because stupid troll, you can't count to—'

Wham.

'One,' said Detritus. 'Two . . . Tree. Four-er . . . Five. Six . . .'

The recumbent troll looked up in amazement.

'That Detritus, him counting.'

There was a whirring noise and an axe bounced off the wall near Detritus' head.

There were dwarfs coming up the street, with a purposeful and deadly air. The trolls scattered.

Cuddy ran forward.

'What are you lot doing?' he said. 'Are you mad, or something?'

A dwarf pointed a trembling finger at Detritus.

'What's that?'

'He's a Watchman.'

'Looks like a troll to me. Get it!'

Cuddy took a step backwards and produced his axe.

'I know you, Stronginthearm,' he said. 'What's this all about?'

'You know, Watchman,' said Stronginthearm. 'The Watch say a troll killed Bjorn Hammerhock. They've found the troll!'

'No, that's not—'

There was a sound behind Cuddy. The trolls were back, armed for dwarf. Detritus turned around and waved a finger at them.

'Any troll move,' he said, 'and I start counting.'

'Hammerhock was killed by a man,' said Cuddy. 'Captain Vimes thinks—'

'The Watch have got the troll,' said a dwarf. 'Damn rocks!'

'Gritsuckers!'

'Monoliths!'

'Eaters of rats!'

'Hah, I been a man only hardly any time,' said Detritus, 'and already I fed up with you stupid trolls. What you think humans say, eh? Oh, them ethnic, them don't know how to behave in big city, go around waving clubs at the drop of a thing you wear on head.'

'We're Watchmen,' said Cuddy. 'Our job is to keep the peace.'

'Good,' said Stronginthearm. 'Go and keep it safe somewhere until we need it.'

'This not Koom Valley,' said Detritus.

'That's right!' shouted a dwarf at the back of the crowd. 'This time we can see you!'

Trolls and dwarfs were pouring in at either end of the street.

'What would Corporal Carrot do at a time like this?' whispered Cuddy.

'He say, you bad people, make me angry, you stop toot sweet.'

'And then they'd go away, right?'

'Yeah.'

'What would happen if we tried that?'

'We look in gutter for our heads.'

'I think you're right.'

'You see that alley? It a nice alley. It say, hello. You outnumbered . . . 256+64+8+2+1 to 1. Drop in and see me.'

A club bounced off Detritus' helmet.

'Run!'

The two Watchmen sprinted for the alley. The impromptu armies watched them and then, differences momentarily forgotten, gave chase.

'Where this go?'

'It goes away from the people chasing us!'

'I like this alley.'

Behind them the pursuers, suddenly trying to make progress in a gap barely wide enough to accommodate a troll, realized that they were pushing and shoving with their mortal enemies and started to fight one another in the quickest, nastiest and above all narrowest battle ever held in the city.

Cuddy waved Detritus to a halt and peered around a comer.

'I think we're safe,' he said. 'All we have to do is get out of the other end of this and get back to the Watch House. OK?'

He turned around, failed to see the troll, took a step forward, and vanished temporarily from the world of men.

'Oh, no,' said Sergeant Colon. 'He promised he wasn't going to touch it any more! Look, he's had a whole bottle!'

'What is it? Bearhugger's?' said Nobby.

'Shouldn't think so, he's still breathing. Come on, help me up with him.'

The Night Watch clustered around. Carrot had deposited Captain Vimes on a chair in the middle of the Watch House floor.

Angua picked out the bottle and looked at the label.

'C M. O. T. Dibbler's Genuine Authentic Soggy Mountain Dew,' she read. 'He's going to die! It says, “One hundred and fifty per cent proof”!'

'Nah, that's just old Dibbler's advertising,' said Nobby. 'It ain't got no proof. Just circumstantial evidence.'

'Why hasn't he got his sword?' said Angua.

Vimes opened his eyes. The first thing he saw was the concerned face of Nobby.

'Aargh!' he said. 'Swor'? Gi' it 'way! Hooray!'

'What?' said Colon.

'No mo' Watsh! All go' . . .'

'I think he's a bit drunk,' said Carrot.

'Drun'? 'm not drun'! You wouldn'dare call m' drun' if I was sober!'

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