Men at Arms Page 34


'I really couldn't say.'

'He's got a present for you.'

Angua risked a glance. Gaspode was holding, but only just, a very large bone in his mouth. It was wider than he was long, and might have belonged to something that died in a tar pit. It was green and furry in places.

'How nice,' she said, coldly. 'Look, you go on. Let me see what I can do . . .'

'If you're sure . . .' Carrot began, in a reluctant tone of voice.

'Yes.'

When he'd gone Angua headed for the nearest alley. There were only a few minutes to moonrise.

Sergeant Colon saluted when Carrot came back, frowning in thought.

'We can go home now, sir?' he suggested.

'What? Why?'

'Now it's all sorted out?'

'I just said that to waylay suspicion,' said Carrot.

'Ah. Very clever,' said the sergeant quickly. 'That's what I thought. He's saying that to waylay suspicion, I thought.'

'There's still a murderer out there somewhere. Or something worse.'

Carrot ran his gaze over the ill-assorted soldiery.

'But right now I think we're going to have to sort out this business with the Day Watch,' he said.

'Er. People say it's practically a riot up there,' said Colon.

'That's why we've got to sort it out.'

Colon bit his lip. He was not, as such, a coward. Last year the city had been invaded by a dragon and he'd actually stood on a rooftop and fired arrows at it while it was bearing down on him with its mouth open, although admittedly he'd had to change his underwear afterwards. But that had been simple. A great big fire-breathing dragon was straightforward. There it was, right in front of you, about to broil you alive. That was all you had to worry about. Admittedly, it was a lot to worry about, but it was . . . simple. It wasn't any kind of mystery.

'We're going to have to sort it out?' he said.

'Yes.'

'Oh. Good. I like sorting things out.'

Foul Ole Ron was a Beggars' Guild member in good standing. He was a Mutterer, and a good one. He would walk behind people muttering in his own private language until they gave him money not to. People thought he was mad, but this was not, technically, the case. It was just that he was in touch with reality on the cosmic level, and had a bit of trouble focusing on things smaller, like other people, walls and soap (although on very small things, such as coins, his eyesight was Grade A).

Therefore he was not surprised when a handsome young woman streaked past him and removed all her clothes. This sort of thing happened all the time, although up until now only on the inner side of his head.

Then he saw what happened next.

He watched as the sleek golden shape streaked away.

'I told 'em! I told 'em! I told 'em!' he said. Til give 'em the wrong end of a ragman's trumpet, so I shall. Bug'r'em. Millennium hand and shrimp! I told 'em!'

Gaspode wagged what was technically a tail when Angua re-emerged.

' “Change into fomefing more fuitable”,' he said, his voice slightly muffled by the bone. 'Good one. I brung you thif little token—'

He dropped it on the cobbles. It didn't look any better to Angua's lupine eyes.

'What for?' she said.

'Stuffed with nourishin' marrowbone jelly, that bone,' he said accusingly.

'Forget it,' said Angua. 'Now, how do you normally get into the Assassins' Guild?'

'And maybe afterwards we could kind of hang out in the middens along Phedre Road?' said Gaspode, his stump of a tail still thumping the ground. 'There's rats along there that'll make your hair stand on—No, all right, forget I mentioned it,' he finished quickly, when fire flashed for a moment in Angua's eyes.

He sighed.

'There's a drain by the kitchens,' he said.

'Big enough for a human?'

'Not even for a dwarf. But it won't be worth it. It's spaghetti tonight. You don't get many bones in spaghetti—'

'Come on.'

He limped along.

'That was a good bone,' he said. 'Hardly even started going green. Hah! I bet you wouldn't say no to a box of chocolates from Mr Hunk, though.'

He cringed as she rounded on him.

'What are you talking about?'

'Nothing! Nothing!'

He trailed after her, whining.

Angua wasn't happy, either. It was always a problem, growing hair and fangs every full moon. Just when she thought she'd been lucky before, she'd found that few men are happy in a relationship where their partner grows hair and howls. She'd sworn: no more entanglements like that.

As for Gaspode, he was resigning himself to a life without love, or at least any more than the practical affection experienced so far, which had consisted of an unsuspecting chihuahua and a brief liaison with a postman's leg.

The No.1 powder slid down the folded paper into the metal tube. Blast Vimes! Who'd have thought he'd actually head for the opera house? He'd lost a set of rubes up there. But there were still three left, packed neatly in the hollow stock. A bag of No. 1 powder and a rudimentary knowledge of lead casting was all a man needed to rule the city . . .

The gonne lay on the table. There was a bluish sheen to the metal. Or, perhaps, not so much a sheen as a glisten. And, of course, that was only the oil. You had to believe it was only the oil. It was clearly a thing of metal. It couldn't possibly be alive.

And yet . . .

And yet . . .

'They say it was only a beggar girl in the Guild.'

Well ? What of it ? She was a target of opportunity. That was not my fault. That was your fault. I am merely the gonne. Gonnes don't kill people. People kill people.

'You killed Hammerhock! The boy said you fired yourself! And he'd repaired you!'

You expect gratitude? He would have made another gonne.

'Was that a reason to kill him?'

Certainly. You have no understanding.

Was the voice in his head or in the gonne? He couldn't be certain. Edward had said there was a voice . . . it said that everything you wanted, it could give you . . .

Getting into the Guild was easy for Angua, even through the angry crowds. Some of the Assassins, the ones from noble homes that had big floppy dogs around the place in the same way that lesser folk have rugs, had brought a few with them. Besides, Angua was pure pedigree. She drew admiring glances as she trotted through the buildings.

Finding the right corridor was easy, too. She'd remembered the view from the Guild next door, and counted the number of floors. In any case, she didn't have to look hard. The reek of fireworks hung in the air all along the corridor.

There was a crowd of Assassins in the corridor, too. The door of the room had been forced open. As Angua peered around the corner she saw Dr Cruces emerge, his face suffused with rage.

'Mr Downey?'

A white-haired Assassin drew himself to attention.

'Sir?'

'I want him found!'

'Yes, doctor—'

'In fact I want him inhumed! With Extreme Impoliteness! And I'm setting the fee at ten thousand dollars – I shall pay it personally, you understand? Without Guild tax, either.'

Several Assassins nonchalantly strolled away from the crowd. Ten thousand untaxed dollars was good money.

Downey looked uncomfortable. 'Doctor, I think—'

'Think? You're not paid to think! Heaven knows where the idiot has got to. I ordered the Guild searched! Why didn't anyone force the door?'

'Sorry, doctor, Edward left us weeks ago and I didn't think—'

'You didn't think? What are you paid for?'

'Never seen him in such a temper,' said Gaspode.

There was a cough behind the chief Assassin. Dr Whiteface had emerged from the room.

Ah, doctor,' said Dr Cruces. 'I think perhaps we'd better go and discuss this further in my study, yes?'

'I really am most terribly sorry, my lord—'

'Don't mention it. The little . . . devil has made us both 2.80 look like fools. Oh . . . nothing personal, of course. Mr Downey, the Fools and the Assassins will be guarding this hole until we can get some masons in tomorrow. No-one is to go through, you understand?'

'Yes, doctor.'

'Very well.'

'That's Mr Downey,' said Gaspode, as Dr Cruces and the chief clown disappeared down the corridor. 'Number two in the Assassins.' He scratched his ear. 'He'd knock off old Cruces for tuppence if it wasn't against the rules.'

Angua trotted forward. Downey, who was wiping his forehead with a black handkerchief, looked down.

'Hello, you're new,' he said. He glanced at Gaspode. And the mutt's back, I see.'

'Woof, woof,' said Gaspode, his stump of a tail thump-ing the floor. 'Incident'ly,' he added for Angua's benefit, he's often good for a peppermint if you catch him in the right mood. He's poisoned fifteen people this year. He's almost as good with poisons as old Cruces.'

'Do I need to know that?' said Angua. Downey patted her on the head.

'Oh, Assassins shouldn't kill unless they're being paid. It's these little tips that make all the difference.'

Now Angua was in a position to see the door. There was a name written on a piece of card stuck in a metal bracket.

Edward d'Eath.

'Edward d'Eath,' she said.

'There's a name that tolls a bell,' said Gaspode. 'Family used to live up Kingsway. Used to be as rich as Creosote.'

'Who was Creosote?'

'Some foreign bugger who was rich.'

'Oh.'

'But great-grandad had a terrible thirst, and grandad chased anything in a dress, his dress, you understand, and old d'Eath, well, he was sober and clean but lost the rest of the family money on account of having a blind spot when it came to telling the difference between a one and an eleven.'

'I can't see how that loses you money.'

'It does if you think you can play Cripple Mr Onion with the big boys.'

The werewolf and the dog padded back down the corridor.

'Do you know anything about Master Edward?' said Angua.

'Nope. The house was flogged off recently. Family debts. Haven't seen him around.'

'You're certainly a mine of information,' she said.

'I gets around. No-one notices dogs.' Gaspode wrinkled his nose. It looked like a withered truffle. 'Blimey. Stinks of gonne, doesn't it.'

'Yes. Something odd about that,' said Angua.

'What?'

'Something not right.'

There were other smells. Unwashed socks, other dogs, Dr Whiteface's greasepaint, yesterday's dinner – the scents filled the air. But the firework smell of what Angua was now automatically thinking of as the gonne wound around everything else, acrid as acid.

'What's not right?'

'Don't know . . . maybe it's the gonne smell . . .'

'Nah. That started off here. The gonne was kept here for years.'

'Right. OK. Well, we've got a name. It might mean something to Carrot—'

Angua trotted down the stairs.

' 'Scuse me . . .' said Gaspode.

'Yes?'

'How can you turn back into a woman again?'

'I just get out of the moonlight and . . . concentrate. That's how it works.'

'Cor. That's all?'

'If it's technically full moon I can Change even during the day if I want to. I only have to Change when I'm in the moonlight.'

'Get away? What about wolfbane?'

'Wolfbane? It's a plant. A type of aconite, I think. What about it?'

'Don't it kill you?'

'Look, you don't have to believe everything you hear about werewolves. We're human, just like everyone else. Most of the time,' she added.

By now they were outside the Guild and heading for the alley, which indeed they reached, but it lacked certain important features that it had included when they were last there. Most notable of these was Angua's uniform, but there was also a world shortage of Foul Ole Ron.

'Damn.'

They looked at the empty patch of mud.

'Got any other clothes?' said Gaspode.

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