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Men at Arms

Men at Arms

Men at Arms 40

Page 40

 

  Yes?

  Itd save a lot of trouble if we went to the wizards and asked them—

  Captain Vimes never had any truck with magic.

  No, but. . .

  No magic, sergeant.

  Yes, sir.

  Guard of honour all sorted out?

  Yes, sir. Their cohorts all gleaming in purple and gold, sir.

  Really?

  Very important, sir, good clean cohorts. Frighten the life out the enemy.

  Good.

  But I cant find Corporal Nobbs, sir.

  Is that a problem?

  Well, it means the honour guardll be a bit smarter, sir.

  Ive sent him on a special errand.

  Er . . . cant find Lance-Constable Angua, either.

  Sergeant?

  Colon braced himself. Outside, the bells were dying away.

  Did you know she was a werewolf?

  Um . . . Captain Vimes kind of hinted, sir . . .

  How did he hint?

  Colon took a step back.

  He sort of said, “Fred, shes a damn werewolf. I dont like it any more than you do, but Vetinari says weve got to take one of them as well, and a werewolfs better than a vampire or a zombie, and thats all there is to it. ” Thats what he hinted.

  I see.

  Er . . . sorry about that, sir.

  Just lets get through the day, Fred. Thats all—

  —abing, abing, a-bing-bong—

  We never even presented the captain with his watch, said Carrot, taking it out of his pocket. He must have gone off thinking we didnt care. He was probably looking forward to getting a watch. I know it always used to be a tradition.

  Its been a busy few days, sir. Anyway, we can give it to him after the wedding.

  Carrot slipped the watch back into its bag.

  I suppose so. Well, lets get organized, sergeant.

  Corporal Nobbs toiled through the darkness under the city. His eyes had got accustomed to the gloom now. He was dying for a smoke, but Carrot had warned him about that. Just take the sack, follow the trail, bring back the body. And dont nick any jewellery.

  People were already filing into the Great Hall of Unseen University.

  Vimes had been firm about this. It was the only thing hed held out for. He wasnt exactly an atheist, because atheism was a non-survival trait on a world with several thousand gods. He just didnt like any of them very much, and didnt see what business it was of theirs that he was getting married. Hed turned down any of the temples and churches, but the Great Hall had a sufficiently churchy look, which is what people always feel is mandatory on these occasions. Its not actually essential for any gods to drop in, but they should feel at home if they do.

  Vimes strolled down there early, because theres nothing more useless in the world than a groom just before the wedding. Interchangeable Emmas had taken over the house.

  There were already a couple of ushers in place, ready to ask guests whose side they were on.

  And there were a number of senior wizards hanging around. They were automatically guests at such a society wedding, and certainly at the reception afterwards. Probably one roast ox wouldnt be enough.

  Despite his deep distrust of magic, he quite liked the wizards. They didnt cause trouble. At least, they didnt cause his kind of trouble. True, occasionally they fractured the time/space continuum or took the canoe of reality too close to the white waters of chaos, but they never broke the actual law.

  Good morning, Archchancellor, he said.

  Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully, supreme leader of all the wizards in Ankh-Morpork whenever they could be bothered, gave him a cheery nod.

  Good morning, captain, he said. I must say youve got a nice day for it!

  Hahaha, a nice day for it! leered the Bursar.

  Oh dear, said Ridcully, hes off again. Cant understand the man. Anyone got the dried frog pills?

  It was a complete mystery to Mustrum Ridcully, a man designed by Nature to live outdoors and happily slaughter anything that coughed in the bushes, why the Bursar (a man designed by Nature to sit in a small room somewhere, adding up figures) was so nervous. Hed tried all sorts of things to, as he put it, buck him up. These included practical jokes, surprise early morning runs, and leaping out at him from behind doors while wearing Willie the Vampire masks in order, he said, to take him out of himself.

  The service itself was going to be performed by the Dean, who had carefully made one up; there was no official civil marriage service in Ankh-Morpork, other than something approximating to Oh, all right then, if you really must. He nodded enthusiastically at Vimes.

  Weve cleaned our organ especially for the occasion, he said.

  Hahaha, organ! said the Bursar.

  And a mighty one it is, as organs go— Ridcully stopped, and signalled to a couple of student wizards. Just take the Bursar away and make him lie down for a while, will you? he said. I think someones been feeding him meat again.

  There was a hiss from the far end of the Great Hall, and then a strangled squeak. Vimes stared at the monstrous array of pipes.

  Got eight students pumping the bellows, said Ridcully, to a background of wheezes. Its got three keyboards and a hundred extra knobs, including twelve with “?” on them.

  Sounds impossible for a man to play, said Vimes politely.

  Ah. We had a stroke of luck there—

  There was a moment of sound so loud that the aural nerves shut down. When they opened again, somewhere around the pain threshold, they could just make out the opening and extremely bent bars of Fondels Wedding March, being played with gusto by someone whod discovered that the instrument didnt just have three keyboards but a whole range of special acoustic effects, ranging from Flatulence to Humorous Chicken Squawk. The occasional oook! of appreciation could be heard amidst the sonic explosion.

  Somewhere under the table, Vimes screamed at Ridcully: Amazing! Who built it!

  I dont know! But its got the name B. S. Johnson on the keyboard cover!

  There was a descending wail, one last Hurdy-Gurdy Effect, and then silence.

  Twenty minutes those lads were pumping up the reservoirs, said Ridcully, dusting himself off as he stood op. Go easy on the Vox Dei stop, theres a good chap!

  Ook!

  The Archchancellor turned back to Vimes, who was wearing the standard waxen pre-nuptial grimace. The hall was filling up quite well now.

  Im not an expert on this stuff, he said, but youve got the ring, have you?

  Yes.

  Whos giving away the bride?

  Her Uncle Lofthouse. Hes a bit gaga, but she insisted.

  And the best man?

  What?

  The best man. You know? He hands you the ring and has to marry the bride if you run away and so on. The Deans been reading up on it, havent you, Dean?

  Oh, yes, said the Dean, whod spent all the previous day with Lady Deirdre Waggons Book of Etiquette. Shes got to marry someone once shes turned up. You cant have unmarried brides flapping around the place, being a danger to society.

  I completely forgot about a best man! said Vimes.

  The Librarian, whod given up on the organ until it had some more puff, brightened up.

  Ook?

  Well, go and find one, said Ridcully. Youve got nearly half an hour.

  Its not as easy as that, is it? They dont grow or. trees!

  Oook?

  I cant think who to ask!

  Oook. .

  The Librarian liked being best man. You were allowed to kiss bridesmaids, and they werent allowed to run away. He was really disappointed when Vimes ignored him.

  Acting-Constable Cuddy climbed laboriously up the steps inside the Tower of Art, grumbling to himself He knew he couldnt complain. Theyd drawn lots because, Carrot said, you shouldnt ask the men to do anything you wouldnt do yourself. And hed drawn the short straw, harhar, which meant the tallest building. That meant if there was any trouble, hed mi
ss it.

  He paid no attention to the thin rope dangling from the trapdoor far above. Even if hed thought about it . . . so what? It was just a rope.

  Gaspode looked up into the shadows.

  There was a growl from somewhere in the darkness. It was no ordinary dog growl. Early man had heard sounds like that in deep caves.

  Gaspode sat down. His tail thumped uncertainly.

  Knew Id find you sooner or later, he said. The old nose, eh? Finest instrument known to dog.

  There was another growl. Gaspode whimpered a bit.

  The thing is, he said, the thing is . . . the actual thing is, see . . . the thing what Ive been sent to do . . .

  Late man heard sounds like that, too. Just before he became late.

  I can see you . . . dont want to talk right now, said Gaspode. But the thing is . . . now, I know what youre thinking, is this Gaspode obeyin orders from a human?

  Gaspode looked conspiratorially over his shoulder, as if there could be anything worse than what was in front of him.

  Thats the whole mess about being a dog, see ? he said. Thats the thing what Big Fido cant get his mind around, see ? You looked at the dogs in the Guild, right ? You heard em howl. Oh, yes, Death To The Humans, All Right. But under all that theres the fear. Theres the voice sayin: Bad Dog. And it dont come from anywhere but inside, right from inside the bones, cos humans made dogs. I knows this. I wish I didnt, but there it is. Thats the Power, knowin. Ive read books, I have. Well, chewed books.

  The darkness was silent.

  And youre a wolf and human at the same time, right? Tricky, that. I can see that. Bit of a dichotomy, sort of thing. Makes you kind of like a dog. Cos thats what a dog is, really. Half a wolf and half a human. You were right about that. Weve even got names. Hah! So our bodies tell us one thing, our heads tell us another. Its a dogs life, being a dog. And I bet you cant run away from him. Not really. Hes your master.

  The darkness was more silent. Gaspode thought he heard movement.

  He wants you to come back. The thing is, if he finds you, thats it. Hell speak, and youll have to obey. But if you goes back of your own accord, then its your decision. Youd be happier as a human. I mean, what can I offer you except rats and a choice of fleas? I mean, I dont know, I dont see it as much of a problem, you just have to stay indoors six or seven nights every month—

  Angua howled.

  The hairs that still remained on Gaspodes back stood on end. He tried to remember which was his jugular vein.

  I dont want to have to come in there and get you, he said. Truth rang on every word.

  The thing is . . . the actual thing is . . . I will, though, he added, trembling. Its a bugger, bein a dog.

  He thought some more, and sighed.

  Oh, I remember. Its the one in the throat, he said.

  Vimes stepped out into the sunlight, except that there wasnt much of it. Clouds were blowing in from the Hub. And—

  Detritus?

  Dink. Captain Vimes, sah!

  Whore all these people?

  Watchmen, sir.

  Vimes stared in puzzlement at the half-dozen assorted guards.

  Whore you?

  Lance-Constable Hrolf Pyjama, sir.

  And y— Coalface?

  I never done nuffin.

  I never done nuffin, sah! yelled Detritus.

  Coalface? In the Watch?

  Dink. Corporal Carrot says theres some good buried somewhere in everyone, said Detritus.

  And whats your job, Detritus.

  Dink. Engineer in charge of deep mining operations, sah!

  Vimes scratched his head.

  That was very nearly a joke, wasnt it? he said.

  It this new helmet my mate Cuddy made me, sir. Hah! People cant say, there go stupid troll. They have to say, who that goodlooking military troll there, acting-constable already, great future behind him, he got Destiny written all over him like writing.