Men at Arms Page 15


He was aware of eyes on him. He looked across the table into the face of a man who was watching him intently and whose last contribution to the conversation had been 'Could you be so kind as to pass me the seasonings, captain?' There was nothing remarkable about the face, except for the gaze – which was absolutely calm and mildly amused. It was Dr Cruces. Vimes had the strong impression that his thoughts were being read.

'Samuel!'

Vimes' hand stopped halfway to the bottle. Willikins was standing next to her ladyship.

'Apparently there's a young man at the door asking for you,' said Lady Ramkin. 'Corporal Carrot.'

'Gosh, this is exciting!' said Lord Eorle. 'Has he come to arrest us, do you think? Hahaha.'

'Ha,' said Vimes.

Lord Eorle nudged his partner.

'I expect that somewhere a crime is being committed,' he said.

'Yes,' said Vimes. 'Quite close, I think.'

Carrot was shown in, with his helmet under his arm at a respectful angle.

He gazed at the select company, licked his lips nervously, and saluted. Everyone was looking at him. It was hard not to notice Carrot in a room. There were bigger people than him in the city. He didn't loom. He just seemed, without trying, to distort things around him. Everything became background to Corporal Carrot.

'At ease, corporal,' said Vimes. 'What's up? I mean,' he added quickly, knowing Carrot's erratic approach to colourful language, 'what is the reason for you being here at this time?'

'Got something to show you, sir. Uh. Sir, I think it's from the Assass—'

'We'll just go and talk about it outside, shall we?' said Vimes. Dr Cruces hadn't twitched a muscle.

Lord Eorle sat back. 'Well, I must say I'm impressed,' he said. 'I'd always thought you Watchmen were a pretty ineffective lot, but I see you're pursuing your duty at all times. Always on the alert for the criminal mind, eh?'

'Oh, yes,' said Vimes. 'The criminal mind. Yes.'

The cooler air of the ancestral hallway came as a blessing. He leaned against the wall and squinted at the card.

' “Gonne”?'

'You know you said you saw something in the courtyard—' Carrot began.

'What's a gonne?'

'Maybe something wasn't in the Assassins' museum, and they put this sign on it?' said Carrot. 'You know, like “Removed for Cleaning”? They do that in museums.'

'No, I shouldn't think th—What do you know about museums, anyway?'

'Oh, well, sir,' said Carrot. 'I sometimes visit them on my day off. The one in the University, of course, and Lord Vetinari lets me look around the old Palace one, and then there's the Guild ones, they generally let me in if I ask nicely, and there's the dwarf museum off Rime Street—'

'Is there?' said Vimes, interested despite himself. He'd walked along Rime Street a thousand times.

'Yes, sir, just up Whirligig Alley.'

'Fancy that. What's in it?'

'Many interesting examples of dwarf bread, sir.'

Vimes thought about this for a moment. 'That's not important right now,' he said. 'This isn't how you spell gone, anyway.'

'Yes it is, sir,' said Carrot.

'I meant, it's not how gone is normally spelled.'

He flicked the card back and forth in his fingers.

'A man'd have to be a fool to break into the Assassins' Guild,' he said.

'Yes, sir.'

The anger had burned away the fumes. Once again he felt . . . not, not the thrill, that wasn't the right word . . . the sense of something. He still wasn't sure what it was. But it was there, waiting for him—

'Samuel Vimes, what's going on?'

Lady Ramkin shut the dining-room door behind her.

'I was watching you,' she said. 'You were being very rude, Sam.'

'I was trying not to be.'

'Lord Eorle is a very old friend.'

'Is he?'

'Well, I've known him a long time. I can't stand the man, actually. But you were making him look foolish.'

'He was making himself look foolish. I was merely helping.'

'But I've often heard you being . . . rude about dwarfs and trolls.'

'That's different. I've got a right. That idiot wouldn't know a troll if it walked over him.'

'Oh, he would know if a troll walked over him,' said Carrot, helpfully. 'Some of them weigh as much as—'

'What's so important, anyway?' said Lady Ramkin.

'We're . . . looking for whoever killed Chubby,' said Vimes.

Lady Ramkin's expression changed instantly.

'That's different, of course,' she said. 'People like that should be publicly flogged.'

Why did I say that? thought Vimes. Maybe because it's true. The . . . gonne . . . goes missing, next minute there's a little dwarf artificer thrown in the river with a nasty draught where his chest should be. They're linked. Now all I have to do is find the links . . .

'Carrot, can you come back with me to Hammer-hock's?'

'Yes, captain. Why?'

'I want to see inside that workshop. And this time I've got a dwarf with me.'

More than that, he added, I've got Corporal Carrot. Everyone likes Corporal Carrot.

Vimes listened while the conversation droned on in dwarfish. Carrot seemed to be winning, but it was a near thing. The clan was giving in not because of reason, or in obedience to the law, but because . . . well . . . because it was Carrot who was asking.

Finally, the corporal looked up. He was sitting on a dwarf stool, so his knees practically framed his head.

'You have to understand, you see, that a dwarf's workshop is very important.'

'Right,' said Vimes. 'I understand.'

'And, er . . . you're a bigger.'

'Sorry?'

'A bigger. Bigger than a dwarf.'

'Ah.'

'Er. The inside of a dwarf's workshop is bike . . . well, it's like the inside of his clothes, if you know what I mean. They say you can look, if I'm with you. But you mustn't touch anything. Er. They're not very happy about this, captain.'

A dwarf who was possibly Mrs Hammerhock produced a bunch of keys.

'I've always got on well with dwarfs,' said Vimes.

'They're not happy, sir. Um. They don't think we'll do any good.'

'We'll do our best!'

'Um. I didn't translate that properly. Um. They don't think we're any good. They don't mean to be offensive, sir. They just don't think we'll be allowed to get anywhere, sir.'

'Ow!'

'Sorry about that, captain,' said Carrot, who was walking like an inverted L. 'After you. Mind your head on the—'

'Ow!'

'Perhaps it'd be best if you sat down and I'll look around.'

The workshop was long and, of course, low, with another small door at the far end. There was a big workbench under a skylight. On the opposite wall was a forge and a tool rack. And a hole.

A chunk of plaster had fallen away a few feet above the ground, and cracks radiated away from the shattered brickwork underneath.

Vimes pinched the bridge of his nose. He hadn't found time to sleep today. That was another thing. He'd have to get used to sleeping when it was dark. He couldn't remember when he'd last slept at night.

He sniffed.

'I can smell fireworks,' he said.

'Could be from the forge,' said Carrot. 'Anyway, trolls and dwarfs have been letting fireworks off all over the city.'

Vimes nodded.

'All right,' he said, 'so what can we see?'

'Someone thumped the wall pretty hard just here,' said Carrot.

'Could have happened at any time,' said Vimes.

'No, sir, because there's the plaster dust underneath and a dwarf always keeps his workshop clean.'

'Really?'

There were various weapons, some of them half finished, on racks by the bench. Vimes picked up most of a crossbow.

'He did good work,' he said. 'Very good at mechanisms.'

'Well known for it,' said Carrot, poking around aimlessly on the bench. 'A very delicate hand. He made musical boxes for a hobby. Could never resist a mechanical challenge. Er. What are we looking for actually, sir?'

'Not sure. Now this is good . . .'

It was a war axe, and so heavy that Vimes' arm sagged. Intricate etched lines covered the blade. It must have represented weeks of work.

'Not your actual Saturday night special, eh?'

'Oh no,' said Carrot, 'that's a burial weapon.'

'I should think it is!'

'I mean, it's made to be buried with a dwarf. Every dwarf is buried with a weapon. You know? To take with him to . . . wherever he's going.'

'But it's fine workmanship! And it's got an edge like – aargh,' Vimes sucked his finger, 'like a razor.'

Carrot looked shocked. 'Of course. It'd be no good him facing them with an inferior weapon.'

'What them are you talking about?'

'Anything bad he encounters on his journey after death,' said Carrot, a shade awkwardly.

'Ah.' Vimes hesitated. This was an area in which he did not feel comfortable.

'It's an ancient tradition,' said Carrot.

'I thought dwarfs didn't believe in devils and demons and stuff like that.'

'That's true, but . . . we're not sure if they know.'

'Oh.'

Vimes laid down the axe and picked up something else from the work rack. It was a knight in armour, about nine inches high. There was a key in its back. He turned it, and then nearly dropped the thing when the figure's legs started to move. He put it down, and it began to march stiffly across the floor, waving its sword.

'Moves a bit like Colon, don't it,' said Vimes. 'Clockwork!'

'It's the coming thing,' said Carrot. 'Mr Hammerhock was good at that.'

Vimes nodded. 'We're looking for anything that shouldn't be here,' he said. 'Or something that should be and isn't. Is there anything missing?'

'Hard to say, sir. It isn't here.'

'What?'

'Anything that's missing, sir,' said Carrot conscientiously.

'I mean,' said Vimes, patiently, 'anything not here which you'd expect to find.'

'Well, he's got – he had - all the usual tools, sir. Nice ones, too. Shame, really.'

'What is?'

'They'll be melted down, of course.'

Vimes stared at the neat racks of hammers and files.

'Why? Can't some other dwarf use them?'

'What, use another dwarf's actual tools?' Carrot's mouth twisted in distaste, as though someone had suggested he wear Corporal Nobbs' old shorts. 'Oh, no. that's not . . . right. I mean, they're . . . part of him. I mean . . . someone else using them, after he's used them all these years, I mean . . . urrgh.'

'Really?'

The clockwork soldier marched under the bench.

'It'd feel . . . wrong,' said Carrot. 'Er. Yukky.'

'Oh.' Vimes stood up.

'Capt—'

'Ow!'

'—mind your head. Sorry.'

Rubbing his head with one hand, Vimes used the other to examine the hole in the plaster.

'There's . . . something in here,' he said. 'Pass me one of those chisels.'

There was silence.

'A chisel, please. If it makes you feel any better, we are trying to find out who killed Mr Hammerhock. All right?'

Carrot picked one up, but with considerable reluctance.

'This is Mr Hammerhock's chisel, this is,' he said reproachfully.

'Corporal Carrot, will you stop being a dwarf for two seconds? You're a guard! And give me the damn chisel! It's been a long day! Thank you!'

Vimes prised at the brickwork, and a rough disc of lead dropped into his hand.

'Slingshot?' said Carrot.

'No room in here,' said Vimes. 'Anyway, how the hell could it get this far into the wall?'

He slipped the disc into his pocket.

'That seems about it, then,' he said, straightening up. 'We'd better – ow! – oh, fish out that clockwork soldier, will you? Better leave the place tidy.'

Carrot scrabbled in the darkness under the bench. There was a rustling noise.

'There's a piece of paper under here, sir.'

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