Men at Arms Page 29


'His lordship . . . that is, her ladyship's father . . . he required to have his back scrubbed,' said Willikins.

'You go and help the old geyser stoke the furnace,' said Vimes firmly.

Left alone, he struggled out of his breastplate and threw it in the corner. The chainmail shirt followed it, and the helmet, and the money pouch, and various leather and cotton oddments that came between a Watchman and the world.

And then he sank, gingerly at first, into the suds.

'Try soap. Soap'11 work,' said Detritus.

'Hold still, will you?' said Carrot.

'You're twisting my head off!'

'Go on, soap him head.'

'Soap your own head!'

There was a thung noise and Cuddy's helmet came free.

Cuddy emerged, blinking, into the light. He focused on the Librarian, and growled.

'He hit me on the head!'

'Oook.'

'He says you came up through the floor,' said Carrot.

'That's no reason to hit me on the head.'

'Some of the things that come up through the floor at Unseen University don't even have a head,' said Carrot.

'Oook!'

'Or they have hundreds. Why were you digging down there?'

'We weren't digging down. We were digging up . . .'

Carrot sat and listened. He interrupted only twice.

'Shot at you?'

'Five time,' said Detritus, happily. 'Have to report damage to breastplate but not to backplate on account of fortunately my body got in way, saving valuable city property worth three dollars.'

Carrot listened some more.

'Sewers?' he said, eventually.

'It's like the whole city, underground. We saw crowns and stuff carved on the walls.'

Carrot's eyes sparkled. 'That means they must date right back to the days when we had kings! And then when we kept on rebuilding the city we forgot they were down there . . .'

'Um. That's not all that's down there,' said Cuddy. 'We . . . found something.'

'Oh?'

'Something bad.'

'You won't like it at all,' said Detritus. 'Bad, bad, bad. Even worse.'

'We thought it would be best to leave it there,' said Cuddy, 'on account of it being Evidence. But you ought to see it.'

'It's going to upset everything,' said the troll, warming to the part.

'What was it?'

'If we tell you, you say, stupid ethnic people, you pulling my leg off,' said Detritus.

'So you'd better come and see,' said Cuddy.

Sergeant Colon looked at the rest of the Watch.

'All of us?' he said, nervously. 'Er. Shouldn't a couple of senior officers stay up here? In case anything happens?'

'Do you mean in case anything happens up here?' said Angua, tartly. 'Or in case anything happens down there?'

'I'll go with Lance-Constable Cuddy and Lance-Constable Detritus,' said Carrot. 'I don't think anyone else ought to come.'

'But it could be dangerous!' said Angua.

'If I find who's been shooting at Watchmen,' said Carrot, 'it will be.'

Samuel Vimes reached up with a big toe and turned on the hot tap.

There was a respectful knock at the door, and Willikins old-retainer'd in.

'Would sir be wanting anything?'

Vimes thought about it.

'Lady Ramkin said you wouldn't be wanting any alcohol,' said Willikins, as if reading his thoughts.

'Did she?'

'Emphatically, sir. But I have here a very fine cigar.'

He winced as Vimes bit the end off and spat it over the side of the bath, but produced some matches and lit it for him.

'Thank you, Willikins. What's your first name?'

'First name, sir?'

'I mean, what do people call you when they've got to know you better?'

'Willikins, sir.'

'Oh. Right, then. Well. You may go, Willikins.'

'Yes, sir.'

Vimes lay back in the warm water. The inner voice was still in there somewhere, but he tried not to pay any attention. About now, it was saying, you'd be proceeding along the Street of Small Gods, just by the bit of old city wall where you could stop and smoke a rollup out of the wind . . .

To drown it out, he started to sing at the top of his voice.

The cavernous sewers under the city echoed with human and near-human voices for the first time in millennia.

'Hi-ho—'

'—hi-ho—'

'Oook oook oook oook ook—'

'You all stupid!'

'I can't help it. It's my nearly-dwarfish blood. We just like singing underground. It comes naturally to us.'

'All right, but why him singing? Him ape.'

'He's a people person.'

They'd brought torches. Shadows jumped among the pillars in the big cavern, and fled along the tunnels. Whatever the possible lurking dangers, Carrot was beside himself with the joy of discovery.

'It's amazing! The Via Cloaca is mentioned in some old book I read, but everyone thought it was a lost street! Superb workmanship. Lucky for you the river was so low. It looks as though these are normally full of water.'

'That's what I said,' said Cuddy. 'Full of water, I said.'

He glanced cautiously at the dancing shadows, which made weird and worrying shapes on the far wall -strange biped animals, eldritch underground things . . .

Carrot sighed.

'Stop making shadow pictures, Detritus.'

'Oook.'

'What him say?'-

'He said “Do Deformed Rabbit, it's my favourite”,' Carrot translated.

Rats rustled in the darkness. Cuddy peered around. He kept imagining figures, back there, sighting along some kind of pipe . . .

There were a disturbing few moments when he lost sight of the tracks on the wet stone, but he picked them up again near a mould-hung wall. And then, there was the particular pipe. He'd made a scratch on the stones.

'It's not far along,' he said, handing Carrot the torch.

Carrot disappeared.

They heard his footsteps in the mud, and then a whistle of surprise, and then silence for a while.

Carrot reappeared.

'My word,' he said. 'You two know who this is?'

'It looks like—' Cuddy began.

'It looks like trouble,' said Carrot.

'You see why we didn't bring it back up?' said Cuddy. 'Carrying a human's corpse through the streets right now would not be a good idea, I thought. Especially this one.'

'I thought some of that, too,' Detritus volunteered.

'Right enough,' said Carrot. 'Well done, men. I think we'd better . . . leave it for now, and come back with a sack later on. And . . . don't tell anyone else.'

'Except the sergeant and everyone,' said Cuddy.

'No . . . not even them. If d make everyone very . . . jumpy.'

'Just as you say, Corporal Carrot.'

'We're dealing with a sick mind here, men.'

Underground light dawned on Cuddy.

'Ah,' he said. 'You suspect Corporal Nobbs, sir?'

'This is worse. Come on, let's get back up.' He looked back towards the big pillar-barred cavern. 'Any idea where we are, Cuddy?'

'Could be under the Palace, sir.'

'That's what I reckoned. Of course, the tunnels go everywhere . . .'

Carrot's worried train of thought faltered away on some distant track.

There was water in the sewers, even in this drought. Springs flowed into them, or water filtered down from far above. Everywhere was the drip and splash of water. And cool, cool air.

It would almost be pleasant were it not for the sad, hunched corpse of someone that looked for all the world like Beano the clown.

Vimes dried himself off. Willikins had also laid out a dressing gown with brocade on the sleeves. He put it on, and wandered into his dressing room.

That was another new thing. The rich even had rooms for dressing in, and clothes to wear while you went into the dressing rooms to get dressed.

Fresh clothes had been laid out for him. Tonight there was something dashing in red and yellow . . .

. . . about now he'd be patrolling Treacle Mine Road . . . . . . and a hat. It had a feather in it.

Vimes dressed himself, and even wore the hat. And he seemed quite normal and composed, until you realized that he avoided meeting his own gaze in the mirror.

The Watch sat around the big table in the guardroom and in deep gloom. They were Off Duty. They'd never really been Off Duty before.

'What say we have a game of cards?' said Nobby, brightly. He produced a greasy pack from somewhere in the noisome recesses of his uniform.

'You won everyone's wages off them yesterday,' said Sergeant Colon.

'Now's the chance to win 'em back, then.'

'Yeah, but there were five kings in your hand, Nobby.'

Nobby shuffled the cards.

' 'S'funny, that,' he said, 'there's kings everywhere, when you look.'

'There certainly is if you look up your sleeve.'

'No, I mean, there's Kings Way in Ankh, and kings in cards, and we get the King's Shilling when we join up,' said Nobby. 'We got kings all over the place except on that gold throne in the Palace. I'll tell you . . . there wouldn't be all this trouble around the place if we had a king.'

Carrot was staring at the ceiling, his eyebrows locked in concentration. Detritus was counting on his fingers.

'Oh, yes,' said Sergeant Colon. 'Beer'd be a penny a pint, the trees'd bloom again. Oh, yeah. Every time someone stubs a toe in this town, turns out it wouldn't have happened if there'd been a king. Vimes'd go spare to hear you talk like that.'

'People'd listen to a king, though,' said Nobby.

'Vimes'd say that's the trouble,' said Colon. 'It's like that thing of his about using magic. That stuff makes him angry.'

'How you get king inna first place?' said Detritus.

'Someone sawed up a stone,' said Colon.

'Hah! Anti-siliconism!'

'Nah, someone pulled a sword out of a stone,' said Nobby.

'How'd he know it was in there, then?' Colon demanded.

'It . . . it was sticking out, wasn't it?'

'Where anyone could've grabbed it? In this town?'

'Only the rightful king could do it, see,' said Nobby.

'Oh, right,' said Colon. 'I understand. Oh, yes. So what you're saying is, someone'd decided who the rightful king was before he pulled it out? Sounds like a fix to me. Prob'ly someone had a fake hollow stone and some dwarf inside hanging on the other end with a pair of pliers until the right guy came along—'

A fly bounced on the window pane for a while, then zigzagged across the room and settled on a beam, where Cuddy's idly thrown axe cut it in half.

'You got no soul, Fred,' said Nobby. 'I wouldn't've minded being a knight in shining armour. That's what a king does if you're useful. He makes you a knight.'

'A night watchman in crappy armour is about your métier,' said Colon, who looked around proudly to see if anyone had noticed the slanty thing over the e. 'Nah, catch me being respectful to some bloke because he just pulled a sword out of a stone. That don't make you a king. Mind you,' he said, 'someone who could shove a sword into a stone . . . a man like that, now, he's a king 'A man like that'd be an ace,' said Nobby.

Angua yawned.

Ding-ding a-ding-ding—

'What the hell's that?' said Colon.

Carrot's chair thumped forward. He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a velvet bag, which he upended on to the table. Out slid a golden disc about three inches across. When he pressed a catch on one side it opened like a clamshell.

The stopped Watch peered at it.

'It's a clock?' said Angua.

'A watch,' said Carrot.

'It's very big.'

'That's because of the clockwork. There has to be room for all the little wheels. The small watches just have those little time demons in and they don't last and anyway they keep rotten time—'

Ding-ding a-ding-ding, ding dingle ding ding . . .

'And it plays a rune!' said Angua.

'Every hour,' said Carrot. 'It's part of the clockwork.'

Ding. Ding. Ding.

'And it chimes the hours afterwards,' said Carrot.

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