Men at Arms Page 36


— wolfhound,' said Angua.

The two dogs paced around them hungrily.

'Big Fido know about her?' said Black Roger.

'I was just —' Gaspode began.

'Well, now,' said Black Roger, 'I reckon you'd be wanting to come with us. Guild night tonight.'

'Sure, sure,' said Gaspode. 'No problem there.'

I could certainly manage either of them, Angua thought. But not both at once.

Being a werewolf meant having the dexterity and jaw power to instantly rip out a man's jugular. It was a trick of her father's that had always annoyed her mother, especially when he did it just before meals. But Angua had never been able to bring herself to do it. She'd preferred the vegetarian option.

' 'ullo,' said Butch, in her ear.

'Don't you worry about anything,' moaned Gaspode. 'Me an' Big Fido . . . we're like that.'

'What're you trying to do? Cross your claws? I didn't know dogs could do that.'

'We can't,' said Gaspode miserably.

Other dogs slunk out of the shadows as the two of them were half led, half driven along byways that weren't even alleys any more, just gaps between walls. They opened out eventually into a bare area, nothing more than a large light well for the buildings around it. There was a very large barrel on its side in one corner, with a ragged bit of blanket in it. A variety of dogs were waiting around in front of it, looking expectant; some of them had only one eye, some of them had only one ear, all of them had scars, and all of them had teeth.

'You,' said Black Roger, 'wait here.'

'Do not twy to wun away,' said Butch, ' 'cos having your intestines chewed often offends.'

Angua lowered her head to Gaspode level. The little dog was shaking.

'What have you got me into?' she growled. 'This is the dog Guild, right? A pack of strays?'

'Shsssh! Don't say that! These aren't strays. Oh, blimey.' Gaspode glanced around. 'You don't just get any hound in the Guild. Oh, dear me, no. These are dogs that have been . . .' he lowered his voice, '. . . er . . . bad dogs.'

'Bad dogs?'

'Bad dogs. You naughty boy. Give him a smack. You bad dog,' muttered Gaspode, like some horrible litany. 'Every dog you see here, right, every dog . . . run away Run away from his or her actual owner.'

'Is that all?'

'All? All ? Well. Of course. You ain't exactly a dog. You wouldn't understand. You wouldn't know what it was like. But Big Fido . . . he told 'em. Throw off your choke chains, he said. Bite the hand that feeds you. Rise up and howl. He gave 'em pride,' said Gaspode, his voice a mixture of fear and fascination, 'He told 'em. Any dog he finds not bein' a free spirit – that dog is a dead dog. He killed a Dobermann last week, just for wagging his tail when a human went past.'

Angua looked at some of the other dogs. They were all unkempt. They were also, in a strange way, un-doglike. There was a small and rather dainty white poodle that still just about had the overgrown remains of its poodle cut, and a lapdog with the tattered remains of a tartan jacket still hanging from its shoulder. But they weren't milling around, or squabbling. They had a uniform intent look that she'd seen before, although never on dogs.

Gaspode was clearly trembling now. Angua slunk over to the poodle. It still had a diamante collar visible under the crusty fur.

'This Big Fido,' she said, 'is he some kind of wolf, or what?'

'Spiritually, all dogs are wolves,' said the poodle, 'but cynically and cruelly severed from their true destiny by the manipulations of so-called humanity.'

It sounded like a quote. 'Big Fido said that?' Angua hazarded.

The poodle turned its head. For the first time she saw its eyes. They were red, and as mad as hell. Anything with eyes like that could kill anything it wanted because madness, true madness, can drive a fist through a plank.

'Yes,' said Big Fido.

He had been a normal dog. He'd begged, and rolled over, and heeled, and fetched. Every night he'd been taken for a walk.

There was no flash of light when It happened. He'd just been lying in his basket one night and he'd thought about his name, which was Fido, and the name on the basket, which was Fido. And he thought about his blanket with Fido on it, and his bowl with Fido on it, and above all he brooded on the collar with Fido on it, and something somewhere deep in his brain had gone 'click' and he'd eaten his blanket, savaged his owner and dived out through the kitchen window. In the street outside a labrador four times the size of Fido had sniggered at the collar, and thirty seconds later had fled, whimpering.

That had just been the start.

The dog hierarchy was a simple matter. Fido had simply asked around, generally in a muffled voice because he had someone's leg in his jaws, until he located the leader of the largest gang of feral dogs in the city. People – that is, dogs -still talked about the fight between Fido and Barking Mad Arthur, a rottweiler with one eye and a very bad temper. But most animals don't fight to the death, only to the defeat, and Fido was impossible to defeat; he was simply a very small fast killing streak with a collar. He'd hung on to bits of Barking Mad Arthur until Barking Mad Arthur had given in, and then to his amazement Fido had killed him. There was something inexplicably determined about the dog – you could have sandblasted him for five minutes and what was left still wouldn't have given up and you'd better not turn your back on it.

Because Big Fido had a dream.

'Is there a problem?' said Carrot.

'That troll insulted that dwarf,' said Stronginthearm the dwarf.

'I heard Acting-Constable Detritus give an order to Lance-Constable . . . Hrolf Pyjama,' said Carrot. 'What about it?'

'He's a troll!'

'Well?'

'He insulted a dwarf!'

'Actually, it's a technical milit'ry term—' said Sergeant Colon.

'That damn troll just happened to save my life today,' shouted Cuddy.

'What for?'

'What for? What for? 'Cos it was my life, that's what tor! I happen to be very attached to it!'

'I didn't mean—'

'You just shut up, Abba Stronginthearm! What do you know about anything, you civilian! Why're you so stupid? Aargh! I'm too short for this shit!'

A shadow loomed in the doorway. Coalface was a basically horizontal shape, a dark mass of fracture lines and sheer surfaces. His eyes gleamed red and suspicious.

'Now you're letting it go!' moaned a dwarf.

'This is because we have no reason to keep him locked up,' said Carrot. 'Whoever killed Mr Hammerhock was small enough to get through a dwarf's doorway. A troll his size couldn't manage that.'

'But everyone knows he's a bad troll!' shouted Stronginthearm.

'I never done nuffin,' said Coalface.

'You can't turn him loose now, sir,' hissed Colon. 'They'll set on him!'

'I never done nuffin.'

'Good point, sergeant. Acting-Constable Detritus!'

'Sir?'

'Volunteer him.'

'I never done nuffin.'

'You can't do that!' shouted the dwarf.

'Ain't gonna be in no Watch,' growled Coalface.

Carrot leaned towards him. 'There's a hundred dwarfs over there. With great big axes,' he whispered.

Coalface blinked.

'I'll join.'

'Swear him in, acting-constable.'

'Permission to enrol another dwarf, sir? To maintain parity?'

'Go ahead, Acting-Constable Cuddy.'

Carrot removed his helmet and wiped his forehead.

'I think that's about it, then,' he said.

The crowd stared at him.

He smiled brightly.

'No-one has to stay here unless they want to,' he said.

'I never done nuffin.'

'Yes . . . but . . . look,' said Stronginthearm. 'If he didn't kill old Hammerhock, who did?'

'I never done nuffin.'

'Our inquiries are proceeding.'

'You don't know!'

'But I'm finding out.'

'Oh, yes? And when, pray, will you know?'

'Tomorrow.'

The dwarf hesitated.

'All right, then,' he said, with extreme reluctance. 'Tomorrow. But it had better be tomorrow.'

'All right,' said Carrot.

The crowd dispersed, or at least spread out a bit. Trolls, dwarfs and humans alike, an Ankh-Morpork citizen is never keen on moving on if there's some street theatre left.

Acting-Constable Detritus, his chest so swollen with pride and pomposity that his knuckles barely touched the ground, reviewed his troops.

'You listen up, you horrible trolls!'

He paused, while the next thoughts shuffled into position.

'You listen up good right now! You in the Watch, boy! It a job with opportunity!' said Detritus. 'I only been doin' it ten minute and already I get promoted! Also got education and training for a good job in Civilian Street!

'This your club with a nail in it. You will eat it. You will sleep on it! When Detritus say Jump, you say . . . what colour! We goin' to do this by the numbers! And I got lotsa numbers!'

'I never done nuffin.'

'You Coalface, you smarten up, you got a field-marshal's button in your knapsack!'

'Never took nuffin, neither.'

'You get down now and give me thirty-two! No! Make it sixty-four!'

Sergeant Colon pinched the bridge of his nose. We're alive, he thought. A troll insulted a dwarf in front of a lot of other dwarfs. Coalface . . . I mean, Coalface, I mean, Detritus is Mr Clean by comparison . . . is free and now he's a guard. Carrot laid out Mayonnaise. Carrot's said we'll sort it all out by tomorrow, and it's dark already. But we're alive.

Corporal Carrot is a crazy man.

Hark at them dogs. Everyone's on edge, in this heat.

Angua listened to the other dogs howling, and thought about wolves.

She'd run with the pack a few times, and knew about wolves. These dogs weren't wolves. Wolves were peaceful creatures, on the whole, and fairly simple. Come to think of it, the leader of the pack had been rather like Carrot. Carrot fitted into the city in the same way he'd fitted into the high forests.

Dogs were brighter than wolves. Wolves didn't need intelligence. They had other things. But dogs . . . they'd been given intelligence by humans. Whether they wanted it or not. They were certainly more vicious than wolves. They'd got that from humans, too.

Big Fido was forging his band of strays into what the ignorant thought a wolf pack was. A kind of furry killing machine.

She looked around.

Big dogs, little dogs, fat dogs, skinny dogs. They were all watching, bright-eyed, as the poodle talked.

About Destiny.

About Discipline.

About the Natural Superiority of the Canine Race.

About Wolves. Only Big Fido's vision of wolves weren't wolves as Angua knew them. They were bigger, fiercer, wiser, the wolves of Big Fido's dream. They were Kings of the Forest, Terrors of the Night. They had names like Quickfang and Silverback. They were what every dog should aspire to.

Big Fido had approved of Angua. She looked very much like a wolf, he said.

They all listened, totally entranced, to a small dog who farted nervously while he talked and told them that the natural shape for a dog was a whole lot bigger. Angua would have laughed, were it not for the fact that she doubted very much if she'd get out of there alive.

And then she watched what happened to a small rat-like mongrel which was dragged into the centre of the circle by a couple of terriers and accused of fetching a stick. Not even wolves did that to other wolves. There was no code of wolf behaviour. There didn't need to be. Wolves didn't need rules about being wolves.

When the execution was over, she found Gaspode sitting in a corner and trying to be unobtrusive.

'Will they chase us if we sneak off now?' she said.

'Don't think so. Meeting's over, see?'

'Come on, then.'

They sauntered into an alley and, when they were sure they hadn't been noticed, ran like hell.

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